Maryknoll Father Romane St. Vil Helps His Fellow Haitians Rise Up From Crisis

Carolyn Woo, the new president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, recently told America Magazine that, "Relief work is not over as soon as you put a shelter on top of a person and they can be fed and [given] medical care." With their homes and livelihoods destroyed or in peril, she went on, we have to ask ourselves, "What about the rest of their lives?"

I noted a distressing parallel last night at an economic justice forum at Seattle's St. James Cathedral. Michael Reichert, president of Catholic Community Services of Western Washington, noted that since the economic crisis in the United States, his organization has been forced to move almost entirely from programs and initiatives of hope and growth for those struggling economically, physically, and/or psychologically, to solely focusing on meeting basic needs such as food, clothing, and housing. Obviously, these are needs that must be addressed immediately, but as Mr. Reichert noted, our concern and love for those in need must move beyond this first, vital step. We must help people to participate in the fullness of life, and must ourselves participate in that fullness through love, compassion, and solidarity.

I was struck by this in reviewing some of Maryknoll's current efforts in Haiti. As you know, the earthquake which struck two years ago took the lives of many, destroyed homes, and left many others traumatized and living in unsanitary and dangerous conditions. Despite an initial outpouring of generosity from around the world, Haiti still struggles immensely, and stands more than ever in need of our love and support. Knowing this, I was heartened to read from Maryknoll priest Romane St. Vil, who is originally from Haiti, of the efforts being made to work with local communities to help people lift themselves up from this desperate situation.

Fr. Romane notes that until May of last year, Maryknoll's efforts in Haiti focused primarily on providing medical assistance to inhabitants of tent cities around Port-Au-Prince and Leogane. This medical assistance has been done in a spirit of solidarity and partnership, with Haitian doctors and nurses working alongside their non-Haitian counterparts, providing free consultation and medicine to about 400 patients a day.

Fr. Romane notes also that, in the past two years, they have also trained nearly 80 people from local communities in Trauma Healing. (An important ministry, he adds, as roughly 90% of the people have been traumatized by the disaster.) Maryknoll Father Dennis Moorman and Maryknoll Sister Efu Nyaki, experts in trauma healing, recently completed three weeks of trauma work in Haiti, providing two seminars to 38 participants. They also worked alongside people from the communities in which they served that had received training in trauma healing. Currently, Fr. Romane is trying to fund the construction of three trauma centers - one in Port-Au-Prince, one in Cite Soleil, and one in Leogane.

Maryknoll's work in Haiti also includes helping people leave the tent cities, helping people to pay rent once they have accessed stable housing, and currently sending 26 kids to school, covering tuition, books, transportation, and food. In addition, Maryknoll is in the process of building a school in collaboration with a sister's congregation, replacing a school that had been destroyed by the earthquake. More pointedly, this school will serve disadvantaged students, charging little to no tuition and fees. Fr. Romane is also involved in helping two local parishes build schools.

Clearly, the efforts by Maryknoll in Haiti highlight the call to answer basic survival needs such as medical care and housing, but also the need to work with people to build their own communities. Maryknoll is working with local people and churches to meet the needs on the ground - not imposing our own view of the way forward in Haiti, but learning what is important to those suffering and helping to leave lasting training and institutions that can continue to meet those and other needs. The work of Fr. Romane, Fr. Dennis, Sr. Efu, and the local parishes and people with whom they work, serves as a model for building up our own communities and confronting the needs within our neighborhoods, cities, states, country, and the world at large.

How can you help build your community? How can you help those who are struggling? How can you grow in understanding, solidarity, and love? The first step in figuring out our own role in addressing the needs of others is recognizing that we have a role in the first place. Maryknoll priests, brothers, sisters, and lay missioners are all people that are actively working to discover what small but ultimately immeasurable role they play in God's mission. Though others of us may not be called to religious life or a life of total service, we are still called by God to love and justice.

View Video of Fr. Romane and Haiti
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