The Italians have a phrase which once fit while I was in Rome during a minor earthquake called “terremoto” or loosely translated, “the earth moved.” Yesterday was the first anniversary of the earth moving in a large portion of western Haiti in an earthquake in this hemisphere causing massive destruction, dislocation and loss of life. Haiti one year later is only marginally better and recovery is still something of a dream despite the generous response of people from all over the world seeking to help in the recovery effort. Heaven and earth has not moved significantly in that tormented nation so close to ours in aiding the people to resume their lives, find work, and occupy safe housing. Why not? What success can be shown? What can be expected?
In Haiti, success like beauty is in the “eye of the beholder.” Certainly until the onslaught of the cholera epidemic a few months ago, it can be said that early response and relief efforts kept disease to a negligible minimum, food and water found its way to the dispossessed quicker and more effectively than in past calamities in that nation, and medicine and medical assessment and treatment were provided to the thousands wounded and sickened by the earthquake and its aftermath. A lot of credit needs to go to the U.S. military and especially the U.S. Navy for coming quickly and organizing the first response. A lot of credit should also go to some relief agencies, especially Catholic Relief Services which was already on the ground and able to begin relief efforts immediately. A point of humble pride (I know, that is an oxymoron) is that our initial and immediate gift from the Diocese of St. Petersburg of $250,000 were the first monies sent to CRS for Haiti and our final total to them is around $1,750,000 from this diocese alone. Stabilization of water, food, medicine and temporary housing were successful. But then it seems the success ended.
Every relief organization, CRS included, is sitting on sizable amounts of contributed funds, goods and supplies awaiting the permission of the Haitian government to begin the process of reconstruction. Haiti just recently completed general elections which turned out to be mandatory prior to any action. Now the world continues to wait while millions of Haitians sleep in tents, refrigerator boxes, very temporary and often shabby housing. The cholera epidemic set timetables back to be sure but it is the government of Haiti who must approve and signal the start of the real relief effort. When will they? They don’t know and I doubt if God knows.
The Church in those portions of Haiti where the earthquake was the worst lost lives, buildings and property. There is evidence that the bishops of the country are ready to work together for reconstruction of churches, schools, hospitals, clinics, orphanages, you name it, lost one year ago yesterday. Most of you know that the Archbishop of the capital city of Port-au-Prince died in his own Cathedral when the walls came tumbling down upon him. Today in Rome Pope Benedict XVI named a new archbishop for Port-au-Prince who while he is 68 years old has a reputation for getting things done. This is a hopeful sign.
Many who gave to the Haitian earthquake relief collections and funds are frustrated by the lack of action and some suspect that CRS and other relief agencies are just sitting on the money, accumulating interest, etc. Both of these possibilities are likely true and necessary but I can tell you from personal experience that until nation and those who wish to help can agree, spending money in that country at this moment is throwing good money down a dubious hole. Painful as it is, it is far better to wait and spend it wisely for the relief of the people than waste it now in an environment of corruption. It will be spent and sometime soon, we hope, the lives of the Haitian people now displaced will improve. The Haitian people long ago learned all about patience and they have much to teach us.
Finally, not only the earth moved on January 11, 2010 but hearts were also moved as well. Your response like that to the tsunami and Katrina humbles and edifies me at the same time. What you gave will continue to be spent in a wise and prudent manner and as soon as we are allowed. Parishes in this diocese who twin with other parishes have already stepped up and the progress there is more measureable since the Haitian government need not have been involved. But settling title to land rights, assigning property for the erection of new permanent and storm/earthquake resistant homes - that requires working with the government which at times can seem so callous toward the obvious and painful needs of its citizenry. 366 days ago the earth shook, now might the government?