Sunday, February 07, 2010

Rebuilding the Church

Sure, no shortage of us might have an act of God to start shoveling out from this Sunday... yet even if good judgment hinders many 'round these parts from heading to Mass today, at least the parishes are up and running.

Coming up on a month since Haiti's "monster" 7.0 quake struck, its toll in the hundreds of thousands, the same obviously can't be said of the heavily-Catholic country. But with the recovery stage now past -- and, indeed, most worship still being held outside -- today's Miami Herald reports that efforts to rebuild the country's ravaged ecclesial apparatus are already underway.

Given the tragedy's distinction as the "the most devastating natural disaster [ever] to hit" a local church, what awaits is no mean task:
More than three weeks after disaster shattered Haitian life, the Archdiocese of Port-au-Prince, the U.S. Catholic church and the Vatican have quietly begun the task of rebuilding the Catholic church in Haiti, arguably the country's hardest-hit institution. Churches of other denominations are also looking toward reconstruction.

Sacred Heart was among at least 60 Catholic churches that collapsed in the 7.0 quake that killed more than 100 nuns and priests and the top church leadership. It's estimated that seven out of every 10 Catholic churches were lost. Damage estimates run in the tens of millions of dollars.

The earthquake is believed to be the most devastating natural disaster to hit a Catholic diocese, said Bishop Joseph Lafontant. With the death of the archbishop and vicar general of Port-au-Prince, Lafontant is now one of the church's top leaders in Haiti.

``As for material things -- we can rebuild,'' he said last week during a break from a daylong meeting with surviving priests. ``In lives, the archdiocese suffered.''

In a country where the government has always struggled to provide even the most basic services, the Catholic Church has always been a lifeline -- it runs schools, hospitals, orphanages and charities.

``In Haiti, the church is like a central living womb for the community,'' said the Rev. Reginald Jean-Mary of Miami's Notre Dame d'Haiti church, who has been conducting prayers and officiating funerals at Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Church in Port-au-Prince....

``We're talking about tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars of damage,'' said the Rev. Andrew Small of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, speaking only of the damage to church structures. The Vatican has tasked the U.S. church with spearheading reconstruction in Haiti, and Small is leading that effort....

``This is a many-year process,'' said Small, who recently flew to Port-au-Prince to evaluate damages.

As a modest first step, the U.S. Catholic church has sent $30,000 worth of equipment to revitalize Radio Soleil, a Catholic radio station operating out of a van in minimally damaged Pétionville. While vast numbers of Haitians still don't have churches to attend, they can listen to prayers on the radio, Small said....

[R]estoring the Haitian church will take longer and be costlier than anything that's come before.

``You are not just talking about the church buildings. You are talking schools, clinics and dispensaries, convents and seminaries,'' said Bishop Thomas Wenski of Orlando, a former Miami pastor who is working with Small on rebuilding.

``It's safe to say Port-au-Prince will need a cathedral again and the country will need seminaries once again, but where they are and how we go about doing it will need to be decided with the Haitians,'' Small added.

The Rev. Jean-Mary of Notre Dame d'Haiti is one of several South Florida Catholic clergymen to rushed to Haiti to fill the spiritual void. Others include the Rev. Robés Charles of St. Clement in Wilton Manors and the Rev. Jean Pierre of St. James in North Miami.

They are spearheading an effort that will soon have South Florida priests taking rotations there.

``You have bodies of your people, students, still in the rubble,'' Jean-Mary said. ``The survivors are in a state of shock. They are people of faith. They are not supermen and women. Down the road, construction of the church will be essential. Without that, people cannot go on.''
PHOTO: Getty