By Most Rev. Richard W. Smith, Archbishop of Edmonton

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Flower Gardens

Up into the mountains today just outside of Port-au-Prince. The goal was to visit some of the projects of the Port-au-Prince bureau of Caritas Haiti which are supported by Development and Peace. We spent hours on steep and unbelievably rough mountain roads, largely washed away by the deluges of the rainy seasons. (Someone remind me NEVER AGAIN to complain about the quality of Edmonton streets!

Supported by a variety of partners, Caritas Port-au-Prince runs a continuum of projects that help people rebuild and sustain their lives. One of these is in the mountain village of Duval, where ninety per cent of the dwellings were destroyed by the earthquake. Slowly but surely residences are being provided to the people - simple concrete structures comprising two bedrooms, a dining area and a storage room. As I approached one of them I saw a flower garden planted outside and up against the house. It had obviously been carefully tended - a sure sign of the family's pride in their new home and in themselves. I'm not good at naming plants, so don't ask me what they were. No matter. The family had been helped to recover their sense of dignity, which is so easily lost when one has no place to live.

From there we went further up into the mountains where two important projects supported by Development and Peace were being directed by Caritas. Both had to do with teaching the local peasant farmers how to conserve the soil which is so easily damaged and lost during the torrential rains. In both locations the local people all banded together for the work, in this case for the construction of walls along the slopes of the mountain. As we visited, some of the workers came up to us and began to chat. I was particularly struck by the comments of one man, who expressed his deep gratitude, not only for the assistance being given, but also for the simple fact of having been noticed. Referring to Caritas, he said, "If it weren't for them, no one would know we were even here." By the presence and assistance of Caritas, the local people knew that not only were they known but also that their existence was valued. Other projects supported by Development and Peace, which are equally aimed at helping the people attain sustainable living, are micro-financing, risk management in the face of other possible natural disasters (we dropped in on one of the classes being held in a simple parish school) and the raising of livestock.

We were also introduced to two local priests. Each lives in the midst of the people, and their placement isolates them from their diocese and their brother priests. Truly devoted men. The people spoke to me very warmly about the priests, in whom they find a shepherd who loves them and whom they love in return. In the person of these priests and in the workers of Caritas, these people in need know that the Church is near to them and from this they draw hope. It is this hope that I saw in the flower garden.

Giving Children a Childhood

We returned this morning from Hinch to Port-au-Prince. Words simply cannot describe the squalor in which thousands upon thousands are striving to live in this city. Yet words are even more inadequate in the face of the interior devastation wreaked upon thousands of children who are referred to as the "restavek". This is creole for the French "reste avec" (stay with). It refers to the terrible reality of what amounts to human trafficking. Families in the city "acquire," through intermediaries, children of the country to do domestic work in their homes. The parents of these children, eager to give their children hope but without any understanding of the reality of the city, "give" their children over to the receiving families with the understanding that they will be cared for, given an education etc. The truth is the opposite. Children ranging in age from six to fifteen years old are brought into the homes as domestic workers, and only a very small percentage of them are given any education at all. In effect, most are treated as slaves and suffer various forms of maltreatment. They usually remain separated from their families for years.

In response to this horror is an organization called Foyer "Maurice Sixto." A partner of Development and Peace, it seeks to create harmonious relations between the parents of the children and the children themselves as well as with the receiving families, sensitize society to this phenomenon, work at preventing the spreading of this problem, and give both basic education and professional formation to the children themselves so that they might have hope for integration into society. Within it all they strive to give the children a childhood. Many do not know their birthdays and have therefore never been celebrated personally. Many live without being hugged with genuine affection and love. The Foyer surrounds them with love and the affirmation of their personal worth and dignity. They give them the opportunity to play and develop their inherent talents. They celebrate birthdays. In short, they make it possible for these kids to be kids.
When we arrived the children that were gathered for their school day broke into a song of welcome. You can probably imagine how emotional that was for all of us. Thank God for this group that works so tirelessly to draw the children to this oasis of love and hope.

At the end of the day we met officials from Caritas Haiti, a D&P partner for many years. They explained to us the network that exists between the national office and the various local diocesan Caritas bureaus. Much effort has been expended to help rebuild their people and their society, and our plan is to see some of those projects tomorrow.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Gift of Hope

I've just spent a couple of days here in Haiti, visiting projects of some partners of Development and Peace. I'll be here with our delegation until the 21st of this month.

The suffering and poverty of the people here defies description. There is some progress to the redevelopment, but it proceeds at a snail's pace. In the midst of the destitution there are many who are striving with great love and dedication to help people rebuild, not only in material but also in personal terms. It is bearing fruit in a sense of renewed hope for the people to whom I have been introduced, a hope which is giving birth to new beginnings.

We visited one of our partners, Mouvement Paysant Papaye, a partner of D&P, which has been working among peasant farmers in the countryside for many years, forming them in necessary life skills that they may be self-sufficient and earn at least a modest living. The results are gradual, but very promising. I met a woman with nothing, who only recently began to benefit from the accompaniment and help of this movement. She is learning the art of setting up a garden which will provide her and her children with the necessary food and extra that she can sell at the market. Another woman who, with her husband and eight children, has been helped by MPP for about fifteen years, has actually been able to send her first three children to university. Finally, we met ten families, who escaped Port-au-Prince into the countryside following the earthquake. They tried to go back to the city, but found that, since they had lost everything, they could no longer live there. They returned to the area served by MPP, and now find themselves in a little village constructed for them. In all of these situations what has struck me the most is the smile of the people that expresses hope. One can sense the return of pride in themselves as they look forward to a new future. Very moving and very encouraging.

Please keep this trip, and especially the people of this beautiful country, in your prayers. More later.

Monday, December 12, 2011

¿Como se traduce?

I’m struggling to learn Spanish. I believe this is important, because it is, after all, the language of about half of the Church worldwide. Fortunately, I am blessed with a very patient instructor. Apart from the fact that I find it difficult to find time for a lesson and then do my homework – not! – he is constantly having to field my questions around translation: What does this word mean? How do I translate that? How would you say such and such? Spanish is a truly beautiful language, and its beauty inspires me to learn it better. One day I hope to be able to listen to it and speak it without the intermediary of translation, but I’m certainly not there yet – far from it.

The most beautiful language of all is that of the Gospel. Its inherent, unsurpassable beauty awakens within us a strong desire to listen to it deeply and speak it to others. In our day, though, it needs translation. For many, the Gospel is little more than words without meaning. What does it signify? What is its relevance? Here is the challenge facing the Church as we embrace the new evangelization. How does the Gospel translate such that it is not only understood but also embraced?

Properly translated, the Gospel means joy. Yesterday, the third Sunday of Advent, was Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete – rejoice! The Scripture readings were a summons to joy. In the first reading (Isaiah 61: 1-2, 10-11) we heard Isaiah rejoicing in anticipation of the dawn of salvation. St. Paul in the second reading (1Thessalonians 5: 16-24) rejoiced, and summoned others to share in this joy, at the fact that the Saviour has come in Christ and remains near to his people. In addition, as Christians we rejoice in that the Lord, who is near even now, will come again with definitive salvation for his people.

How does the “act of translation” take place? How do the words of the Gospel become joy in our hearts? Consider John the Baptist in the Gospel passage of Sunday (John 1:6-8, 19-28). In response to the queries of those sent by the Pharisees to question him as to his identity, he made this striking statement: “Among you stands one whom you do not know.” He is referring to Christ, whom John did know. Furthermore, John knew himself in relation to Jesus. “I am a voice crying in the wilderness…” Here is the point at which the Gospel translates into joy. When we know Jesus Christ – not just know about him, but truly know him – and when we know ourselves in relation to him, then we find joy. Perhaps better, joy finds us. “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11) Christian joy is that which comes from abiding in the love of Christ.

This is very different from the pleasure and excitement that seems to be the sought-after goal of so many today. These are superficial things that are but transitory, fleeting, and that leave us not satisfied but longing, looking for more, running after the next “thrill.” This is not joy. Real joy is deep and lasting. It is that which we find in the Gospel, which offers a sharing in Christ’s own joy.

¿Como se traduce? How does this translate? My prayer is that, for each of us, a deeper personal knowledge of Jesus Christ and of self-knowledge in him will translate into that deep lasting joy which is the true meaning of the Gospel.