By DENNIS SADOWSKI, CNS | Published January 21, 2010
Baltimore-based Catholic Relief Services has been asked by the Vatican to coordinate the church’s relief and recovery efforts in earthquake-ravaged Haiti.
The Pontifical Council Cor Unum, the Vatican office that promotes and coordinates Catholic charitable giving and distributes the money the pope designates for charity, made the request of the U.S. bishops’ aid agency because of its experience and expertise in Haiti, the most impoverished nation in the Western Hemisphere.
The council said in a statement released Jan. 14 that hundreds of CRS personnel have “long been active in Haiti.”
“The past experience, expertise, and resources of CRS will enable prompt and effective coordination of the church’s efforts, which in the words of Pope Benedict, must be generous and concrete to meet the pressing needs of our Haitian brothers and sisters,” it said.
Around the world, dozens of private Catholic agencies initiated fundraising efforts, and dioceses announced special collections at Sunday Masses to fund the relief efforts of CRS, Caritas Internationalis, Caritas Haiti and other Catholic agencies and religious orders already in the country. The agencies were coordinating efforts with other religious, nongovernmental and government operations as hunger grew and some Haitians became increasingly impatient because they had received little or no assistance in the week since the Jan. 12 quake.
The most severe damage was limited to the Haitian capital and areas to its south and west. The epicenter of the Jan. 12 magnitude 7 earthquake was 10 miles southwest of Port-au-Prince with severe damage extending outward.
Haitian government and relief agency authorities have estimated that up to 200,000 people died in buildings that collapsed during the quake, which struck late in the afternoon while people were still in offices and classrooms or at home preparing dinner. Another 300,000 people were injured. Up to 3 million of Haiti’s 9.8 million people were affected by the most recent natural disaster to strike the small nation.
CRS made an initial commitment of $5 million in aid, later increasing its pledge of aid for the impoverished nation to $25 million. It could go higher, said Pat Johns, director of safety and security for the Baltimore-based agency. CRS, which is coordinating the Catholic Church’s response, reported it had collected $13.1 million for earthquake relief as of early Jan. 19.
Because conditions in the earthquake zone are treacherous and needs were still being assessed, CRS was sending a few additional staff as well as relief supplies through the neighboring Dominican Republic, said Johns.
Two staff members based in the Dominican Republic—an expert in natural disaster response and a civil engineer—were due in the Haitian capital the afternoon of Jan. 14, he said. A third, an expert in shelter, was expected to arrive from Kenya by Jan. 16.
“Immediate relief was to start today,” he told CNS Jan. 14. After the 2008 hurricanes, “by the luck of God we decided to do some pre-positioning of supplies in Port-au-Prince.” Johns said shelter kits, bedding, mosquito nets, water and food were being distributed from one of two CRS warehouses in the capital. Although undamaged, the second warehouse was blocked by debris and distribution of its contents not yet begun as of Jan. 19, he said.
The agency hired workers to clear the blockage and Johns said he expected it would be at least another day before the stored supplies could be distributed.
Teams of medical personnel from across the United States were being shuttled to Haiti. Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., and Loyola University Chicago are among institutions sending medical staff.
CRS was sending a plane with medical supplies and equipment as well as medical personnel and additional staff from Miami the afternoon of Jan. 19.
Johns said operating rooms and several medical clinics were operating on emergency power.
“One of the things we had is a big HIV/AIDS program through these clinics,” Johns said. “We tapped into that.”
CRS also opened a supply pipeline from the Dominican Republic border town of Jimani, about 35 miles from Port-au-Prince, to the Haitian capital.
Catholic religious orders quickly mobilized people and resources as well.
The Camillian order was operating the only hospital in the Port-au-Prince area not destroyed in the earthquake, the Vatican missionary news service Fides reported Jan. 14.
Camillian Father Efisio Locci, director of health and development for the Order of St. Camillus, Order of Servants of the Sick, told Fides the hospital was full and “in need of practically everything.”
The rector of the Salesians of St. John Bosco, Father Pascuel Chavez, offered the order’s resources in a letter sent to the superior of the Salesians in Haiti, Father Ducange Sylvain.
“Now is the time to roll up our sleeves as Don Bosco did and help those in the greatest need,” Father Chavez said.
The Rome-based Knights of Malta sent a medical team to assist with medical care in Haiti. Under the auspices of the order’s emergency relief program, Malteser International, doctors and other medical experts from France and Germany were deployed.
The Jesuits in the Dominican Republic sent one person across the Haiti-Dominican Republic border to help with emergency relief, said Uta Sievers of the order’s social justice office in Rome.
Father Jose Antonio Sandoval Tajonar, regional coordinator of Caritas for Latin America and the Caribbean, left Mexico City for Haiti Jan. 14. The eight-member Caritas team that accompanied him included five rescue workers from an area near the Belize border often hit by hurricanes.
Elsewhere, Catholic agencies had pledged hundreds of thousands of dollars in aid as of Jan. 14.
Development and Peace, the official development and aid organization of the Catholic Church in Canada, has launched an emergency appeal to support humanitarian aid to the devastated country. The agency has committed an initial pledge of $50,000 to Caritas Haiti, which operates 200 medical clinics in the country.
CAFOD, the overseas development and relief agency of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, made an immediate pledge of $162,000 for water, food, medicine and shelter for victims in the worst affected areas.
As the pace of the response accelerated, agencies took extra security measures after reports of looting in some Port-au-Prince neighborhoods. CRS was sending in its security expert from Africa and was working with U.N. peacekeepers to protect convoys as supplies were taken across the border from the neighboring Dominican Republic, Johns told Catholic News Service.
Christian Fuchs, communications director for Jesuit Relief Services USA in Washington, said the agency had opened several medical centers to assist injured people in some of the poorest neighborhoods of the Haitian capital and the surrounding area. The agency had raised about $150,000 for its relief effort as of Jan. 19.
Jesuit-run hospitals and clinics in the Port-au-Prince neighborhoods of Turgeau, Haut Turgeau, Delmas and Canape Vert reopened. A health care facility in the quake-ravage town of Leogane, about 25 miles west of Port-au-Prince, also reopened, he told CNS Jan. 19.
Fuchs reported that Jesuits in Haiti and the Dominican Republic were seeing a growing exodus of people from Port-au-Prince heading to the Dominican border.
“We’re concerned that could be an overwhelming situation,” he explained. “We’re pushing that anyone displaced by the earthquake be given accommodation in Haiti.”
The church efforts supplemented the global response from the world’s governments. As of Jan. 19, the United States had more than 11,000 military personnel on the ground or offshore preparing to mobilize. In addition nearly three dozen helicopters were flying supplies to nine landing zones around Port-au-Prince.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Catholic Relief Services: www.crs.org.
St. Brendan’s outreach program: www.haitireach.com.
St. Monica’s program: http://saintmonicasinhaiti.com