Witnessing To Hope In Haiti

By Fr Andrew Labatoria CICM and Fr Edito Casipong CICM 

Father Andrew Labatoria, from Zarraga, Iloilo, joined the CICMs in 1991, and was ordained in 2003. Father Edito Casipong, from Victorias City, Negros Occidental, joined in 1986, and was ordained in 1998. They currently work as the founding pastors of the first CICM parish in Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti.

Haiti experienced a particularly turbulent time in 2004 and 2005; the country was on the brink of economic and political breakdown, and still is today. There is a hopelessness here that runs incredibly deep. In desperation, many people turn to violence, vandalism, the burning of government owned buildings, vehicles and such. The black smoke we see rising above our city doesn’t indicate another inconclusive vote in electing a new pope – it simply indicates more violence.

However, amidst and in spite of the uncertainty here in Haiti, we set out to form the Christian community of St Jude, which, early in 2005, the bishop had entrusted to us. The place has yet to be elevated to parochial status, but it would be our first CICM parish in the capital. The community is comprised of migrants from different provinces who have come to the capital in the hope of finding a better life. The community is growing and current estimates put the present number at around 60,000 people. When we examined where these people were at that moment, we saw enormous needs and an enormous task ahead.

Drawn Out Dream
The community of St Jude had previously been under the care of the Parish of St Claire. With donations from concerned organizations and generous individuals, the community was able to lay the cornerstone for their own St Jude Chapel in 1999. Along with this milestone, the residents of St Jude were able to obtain electricity and a water supply from the government as well. However, with their limited budget, building the chapel stretched into a years-long project. The lack of funding and the deterioration of the political and economic climate took a toll on the entire project and community; the construction of the chapel eventually came to a complete halt.

For years, the Christian community of St Jude has celebrated the Eucharist, received formation and prayed together in an open structure that serves as church, hall, community building and parish office. The journey of St Jude as a faith community has not been an easy one; but it progresses.

Ever since we came to the community of St Jude, we’ve received enormous support and collaboration from the people. The newly formed pastoral groups are becoming active in building a solid and lively Christian community and a parish council has been formed. After some months here we had our first baptism. Since then we’ve celebrated the Sacrament of Baptism for some 150 children and adults. Thirty or more adults have received First Communion and registration for youth and adult catechism has increased significantly. A series of religious and social formation sessions have been organized and well attended. Participation by every parishioner is constantly requested and the response gives an air of excitement to this growing faith community.

‘Anpil men, chay pa lou’, is a Haitian proverb meaning: ‘With many hands, the load becomes lighter’. This sums up the situation at St Jude. Though their efforts to construct a church building were thwarted, the Christian community’s persistence and faith has enabled it to continue to grow and become a vibrant one. They’ve demonstrated well the proverb’s message of hope through sharing and partnership. It is only possible because of the tireless devotion of many lay leaders and collaborators.

Today, with the vision of elevating St Jude to a parish, there is even more enthusiasm and hope among the faithful. The dream of finishing the church construction has once again awakened.

Enduring Hope
Sadly, another Haitian proverb is not far from our minds as we pursue this dream. ‘Deye mon, gen mon’, ‘Behind mountains are more mountains’, captures the grim reality of life here in Haiti. The struggle for development and a peaceful society is ongoing. But it is amidst such uncertain times that the call to evangelization becomes louder and more necessary. It remains a primary mission for every man and woman who hears Jesus’ call: ‘Go to all nations and proclaim the Good News.’ This is our call. Founding a new parish in the capital of Haiti during these chaotic times is certainly not an easy task. But it is a concrete witness to our hope in God.

Of course it is our dream to help the community of St Jude go further. We pray that the dreams of the people will be realized, despite the long and slow path they are sure to face. St Jude has already grown tremendously and matured in faith under the Gospel values that teach us that we are all equal partners, responsible to one another.

No doubt the task will be long and difficult, but we shall endure. We have witnessed the simple fact that sharing is one of the most powerful forces in the world, and we thank you for sharing with us in this mission through your prayers and other support. It is our missionary calling to share; we vow not to stop.