For nearly 40 years the Diocese of Norwich has had a presence in Haiti, the poorest and most densely populated country in the Western Hemisphere.
A series of pilgrimages by clergy, religious and lay people in the early 1980s profoundly impacted all who came to this little island country approximately the size of Maryland. A task force was created, the outcome of which was the establishment of an Office of Haitian Ministries that would educate Americans about Haiti and foster relationships with the Diocese of Norwich and the Archdiocese of Port-au-Prince, emphasizing the Church’s missionary commitment to people in other countries. This resulted in our Diocese establishing a permanent presence in Haiti as a sign of solidarity and to develop long-term, faith-based relationships.
This ministry is based on our faith and good works and reflects the wisdom found in Deuteronomy 14:22-29, “Each year you shall tithe all the produce that grows in the field you have sown...so that the Lord, your God, may bless you in all that you undertake.”
Today, more than 11 million people live in Haiti, which is highly vulnerable to tropical storms, earthquakes, disease outbreaks and droughts; and throughout its history has been plagued by political unrest brought about in part by transfers of power from one government ruler to the next.
OUR MISSION AND WORK TODAY
Haitians are hard-working, intelligent, creative, and have a strong faith in God. While the majority of Haitian are Catholic, most others are Christian, and some represent other faiths including our Jewish friends. The great majority of Haitians want what we all do, which is to provide for ourselves and our families, worship freely, enjoy time off and live in peace. This is evidenced in Haitian art that reveals a joy in living.
In 2020, Haitians face many challenges as revealed in the following statistics:
- 59 percent live on less than $2.42 a day
- 50 percent have no access to clean drinking water
- 57 percent do not receive recommended immunizations
- 40 percent of Haitian children do not attend school
- 50 percent of Haitian children are undersized due to malnutrition (the leading cause of death in children younger than six years old)
Helping Haitians to Help Haitians
Our ministry in Haiti is staffed by Haitians who support and carry out our work. The Sr. Ann Weller clinic treats approximately 6,000 men, women and children annually. Patients receive medication, vaccinations and lab tests as needed. Trained health care agents walk the Christ the King neighborhood visiting families in their homes to provide health and medical care, educate families on nutrition and hygiene, and where needed to recommend them to the clinic. Clean water is offered to all at the Christ the King campus through the Sunspring Water Purification system. We offer an onsite nutrition program that serves expectant moms and families whose children have been diagnosed with moderate to severe malnutrition.
Education is Key
Approximately 200 students receive annual scholarships to attend primary, secondary and post-secondary schools and universities. In the early 1980s, approximately 34.7 percent of Haitians were literate, but today approximately 61.7 percent of Haitians are literate. Students who were able to attend school through our education sponsorship program have discovered their God-given gifts and have become doctors, healthcare workers, engineers, IT workers, business owners and artists, to name just a few vocations.
Father Frank Rouleau represents our Diocese in Haiti, where he has served for eight years. As chaplain he offers daily Mass and hears confessions and as Director of Twinning visits parishes and meets with the pastors. Today we have approximately 14 twinning relationships with parishes in the Diocese of Norwich, other U.S. dioceses and parishes in Haitian dioceses including the Archdiocese of Port-au-Prince.
Under the leadership of Bishop Cote, we continue to advance the mission of Outreach to Haiti, strengthening relationships with the Archdiocese of Port-au-Prince and the several parishes twinned with us. We remain committed to serving our Haitian brothers and sisters in the spirit and values of the Gospel. The seeds planted by each of us produce a harvest pleasing to God.
By Susan Wallace, Executive Director Outreach to Haiti