Deacon of Hope in Haiti

By: Fr. Victorino Coronado, CICM

Unheavenly Haven
The parish of Phaeton in Haiti near the border with the Dominican Republic, it is not an ordinary parish. Phaeton is special in many ways as the poorest and the smallest parish in the diocese of Port Liberty. The place itself occupies 37,000 hectares of land formerly reserved for a sisal plantation its fiber being used for ropes, rugs, and other materials. Thousands of laborers and landless peasants coming from all over the country were employed in this desolate barren desert, euphemistically called “Plantation Dauphin” i.e. haven of the crownprince, by a US based company.

Wheel Turns
Some twenty years ago the plantation was forced to close its doors because of the decline of its product in the world market. Competition against the synthetic fiber made its operation a money loosing business. The rich transferred to other factories while the poor stayed behind, trying to survive the best they could in this place of desolation. Yes, survival has been the way of living for many Haitians and it is also true for the people of Phaeton.

CICM Arrived
CICM missionaries arrived in 1954 hoping to turn this unusual settlement of “moun vini” meaning to say, rootless peoples coming from everywhere with only desperation in common, into a livable and a living Christian community. With ups and downs this effort succeeded. Today there is a Christian Community of St. Therese of Lisieux parish with a few hundred faithful.

I arrived in Phaeton in 1993 for my internships. Because of the 1991 coup de’ tat and its consequences of increasing terror by the military, the misery and hunger caused by embargo imposed by the international community against the Pucthis (but only hitting the poor) and the blurred position of the Church towards its people, INTEGRATION in such a mess was very difficult. My adoption to this new reality was not an easy one, I have used up all my patience, and I have to struggle everyday to open my heart to accept this people who I want to serve; at the same time creating room for understanding because for the “ground we are approaching is holy”.

Forgotten Place
Armed with a smile, I got involved with the kindergarten kids, with young unemployed people, aimless and with no future, with fishermen ill equipped and trying to make a living in the sun, with slum dwellers hungry and despair, with the sick and the handicapped. In a word: the poor people of God in a forgotten place.


Big Preparation
Of course all this, was part of my preparation for ordination to the Deaconate. Days before the celebration, the whole village was cleaned up to its best form as in the heyday of the flourishing Dauphin Plantation. Saturday, one could feel it in the air, preparing something great, decorating singing and rehearsing.

Ordination Day
And the day if ordination came, everybody was present: Welcoming visitors is something the Phaeton people had not been able to do for years; 18 CICM confreres came from three dioceses, 5 diocesan priests and tens of sisters came from other congregations including 2 from the ICM community.

Church was Packed
The churched was packed to capacity, it was beautifully decorated with flowers and Haitian and Filipino flags. The children danced during the entrance procession waving the same red, white and blue flags of both countries. Behind the altar was the ICM emblem COR UNUM et ANIMA UNA; to the left was the giant poster illustrating the theme of the celebration: Mk. 16:15 “Ale toupatou sou late anonse ben nouval la bay tout moun.” (“Go into the whole world and make disciples of all peoples.”)

Hidden Talent
My own artistic talent was visible in the booklet prepared for the said celebration with songs readings and explanation of the ceremony which all bore the missionary dimension. On the cover page of the booklet was a presentation of CICM family, both the provinces of Haiti. And the last page was from the CICM constitution and had my message.

Beauty of Missionary Life
Msgr. Hubert Constant, ICM missionary, gave a moving introduction on the beauty of missionary life, the exchange between different cultures and the universality of the church. “This is not going to be an ordinary celebration, it is not only a feast for the parish but it is a Pentecost experienced for the people from different countries and languages being one in heart and one in soul.”

Our Father
The most moving moment came during the prayer of the Our Father. The extended parish choir most of whom could not read and write began singing the Our Father in Tagalog and concluded the same prayer in Creole, impressing and heartwarming! When I spoke I said: “I myself after two months of intense language study could hardly pray the Our Father in Creole. How did you manage to sing and memorize this prayer of prayers in my language?”


To be the Caretaker
The bishops sent me, though still only Deacon to be the caretaker of the parish for three months as Fr. Joseph had to go for his well deserved vacation to his home province. This underlines the shortage of priest here in Haiti.

Festive Celebration
In the afternoon we had a heated soccer match in the Church grounds. Unfortunately my team lost. At sunset people gathered again in the church for a spiritual concert, a tribute to the newly ordained deacon: hymns, songs, readings and prayers all expressing the festive mood of the community.