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Catholic Relief Services: Focus on Haiti Print
Guest column
Written by Susanna Herro and Kathy Wall   
Thursday, Apr. 03, 2014 -- 12:00 AM

Guest Column

In this fifth week of Lent, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) highlights Haiti, where CRS has been serving since 1954.

Catholic Relief Services is the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. With almost 70 years of experience, CRS works to alleviate suffering and provide assistance to people in need in nearly 100 countries, without regard to race, religion, or nationality.

Poverty in Haiti is heartbreaking

The extreme poverty of Haiti was made incredibly worse by the 2010 earthquake, which destroyed much of the infrastructure in the country. As the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, 80 percent of Haitians live on less than two dollars a day and this poverty level is worse in rural areas.

What this poverty means is heartbreaking. The average life expectancy in Latin America is 69. Haitians’ life expectancy is only 57. Only about one in four people have access to safe water and health care is scarce. About one in five children of secondary school age actually attends secondary school.

CRS raises funds through the Rice Bowl project and other donations and works to alleviate each of these problems. Catholic school teachers are receiving intensive training and people are being trained to help at community health care centers. Water projects and hunger projects are helping people. CRS work is humanitarian, but strives also to create self-sufficiency and independence.

From Madison to Haiti

For the last two years, Blessed Sacrament and St. Maria Goretti parishes in Madison have sent missions to Haiti, led by Melanie Ahern, youth and collegiate minister at Blessed Sacrament, and Joe Rausch, youth minister at St. Maria Goretti. This past January, 10 college-age students and nine other adults worked in Fond Blanc with Pastor Jean-Claude.

This wonderful community, with Pastor Jean-Claude as the spiritual leader, includes an orphanage for around 60 children ages two through 17, a church, and a school. The church and school serve both the children in the orphanage and those in the neighboring village of Fond Blanc.

Mission trip changes lives

All the travelers on the mission to Haiti will tell you that their lives were forever changed after the trip to Fond Blanc, proving again that you often receive much more than you give when following the Gospel.

  • Adam Argall, a UW-Madison student writes, “When I went to Haiti last year, the week flew by in a blur. It was all a new experience to me and it felt like I was in a dream. Going back to Haiti this year for a second time, I made a point to really soak in everything around me. I took time to admire the landscape, talk to locals, and form friendships with the other people in our group.

“With this approach, I was able to see God’s work all around me. Even in a country as poor as Haiti, the people still showed unconditional love for Jesus. Being a college student, I am faced with so many distractions that make it hard to find time for my faith. Seeing the Haitians passionately worship the Lord, however, made me realize that I have no excuse to turn my back on God.”

  • Rachael Wabers, a UW-La Crosse sophomore, shares, “Haiti was an amazing, eye-opening experience that put things in perspective. I have never seen anyone work as hard as the Haitians from sunrise to sunset. They’re a true inspiration. That’s not to mention the adorably loving children. From day one they clung to you with nothing but love and affection. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I was extremely lucky and blessed to be a part of.”
  • Rachel Landgraf, another college participant says, “We helped complete physical work like cutting wood, hammering, mixing concrete and the works, but we also improved our spiritual work by worshipping and forming friendships with the kids, teens, and adults there. My Haitian friends always keep me updated with their lives as well as the work going on in the orphanage.

“I can’t wait for the day when we return once again to have dozens of kids wanting hugs, playing soccer up on the village hill with villagers, building and contributing to a growing church and community, but most importantly, continually developing a relationship with others rooted in the service and love God asks of us.”

  • Writing from the perspective of a mother, Dawn Hearn added, “The most lasting memories that fill my soul are the joy the Haitians possess, the powerful, unyielding faith they embrace, and the appealing simplicity. The unbridled joy we were met with upon arrival is engraved on my heart. We were greeted not as strangers, but as instant friends.

“The church services we attended were filled with exponential love of the Lord. Singing, praying, Scripture, and, oh, the dancing. The aisles were filled with all of us dancing in praise of Our Lord. It was so exhilarating and filled us to the brim with faith.”

Reflections in Lenten booklet

Some of the Haiti mission participants contributed reflections for a Lenten book given to Blessed Sacrament parishioners.

  • Jason Arnold, from Blessed Sacrament wrote, “As soon as we arrived, I could tell we were in a place of God. Although they had next to nothing, the Haitians shared what they had with us, and most importantly, God.”
  • Maggie Siebert, a University of Notre Dame student from St. Maria Goretti, wrote, “No matter what, He will be our God and we His people, just as He promised to the Israelites long ago.”
  • Casey Shiring summed up, “We went to Haiti with the intention of helping, which we did. We gave them the riches of money, material goods, and physical labor. The Haitians gave us something far more valuable — the riches of faith in its purest, most uncorrupted form. We brought them medical supplies, but they were our spiritual physicians.”
Pastor has big plans

Pastor Jean-Claude has big plans for the area. He is currently expanding the grounds, building a bigger church to allow more people to come to worship, improving the dining area for both the children and the people who work at the orphanage, and a hoped-for renovation of the kitchen.

The women who provide meals for everyone at Fond Blanc cook over open fires on the ground and have virtually no counter space to do any prep work for the meals. Imagine cooking rice and beans for 60 people over an open fire in 95 degree heat, in January!

What you can do

Lent calls us to live more simply, pray more deeply, and help others by sharing our wealth. Catholic Relief Services asks each of us to make a difference in the lives of our brothers and sisters in need.

You can do that in so many ways. We’re promised that our generosity will be re-paid many times over. These mission participants are living proof of the joy of giving and of the gifts received.

Make a gift to end world hunger at your parish, through CRS at crsricebowl.org/give or send a check to P.O. Box 17090, Baltimore, MD 21297-0303. An additional benefit of contributing through your parish Rice Bowl collection is that 25 percent of the funds stay within the diocese to help people right here.


Susanna Herro and Kathy Wall are members of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Madison.