By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published August 22, 2014
NEWNAN—Stopping to give a belated New Year’s blessing to a friend saved the life of Msgr. André Pierre in January 2010 as an earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale struck his native Haiti.
Msgr. Pierre, president of the Catholic University of Notre Dame of Haiti, spoke about the devastating earthquake and the recovery of his country during a visit to St. George Church in Newnan July 26-27. The priest concelebrated Masses with Father Henry Atem, pastor, throughout the weekend.
Through a twinning program, with the motto of “Faith, Hope, Haiti,” the St. George community supports two parishes in northern Haiti—Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in LaBruyere and St. Joseph Church in LaLomas.
Msgr. Pierre recounted his tale of survival but also what he believes will be key in helping Haitians to move forward.
On Jan. 12, 2010, the priest was rushing for a meeting with Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot and the vicar general at the chancery of the Archdiocese of Port-au-Prince.
As the priest drove up, he saw the archbishop on the balcony praying the rosary. Archbishop Miot called out to him saying, “Welcome André. We have been waiting for you.” Those were likely the last words the archbishop ever spoke.
A friend stopped Msgr. Pierre before he climbed the stairs to exchange a New Year’s greeting. As the priest was going up the stairs, the earth started moving.
Msgr. Pierre said when the rumbling and shaking started he thought he was having a heart attack.
“I thought I was dead in that earthquake,” he told the St. George parishioners.
Archbishop Miot was thrown from the balcony and died, and the vicar general died while sitting in the room where the meeting was to be held.
Msgr. Pierre emphasized that he was not there to talk about the tragedy but rather about support of Haiti in its continued recovery. As one of seven children, Msgr. Pierre said he had been presented many opportunities along the way, including education.
In a homily full of enthusiasm, humor and hope, the priest encouraged St. George members to maintain their relationship with Haiti, which predates the earthquake.
“Just be open to God and understand how blessed you are,” he said. “You can bring hope to a new generation.”
Invited to speak at St. George by Deacon Steve Beers, Msgr. Pierre recalled St. John Paul II’s focus on a universal church with the north and the south linking to represent the church in the Americas.
“Let us join together in that campaign together to be the body of Christ,” said Msgr. Pierre.
Deacon Beers first met Msgr. Pierre at the Matthew 25 House after the earthquake. The deacon was there, Msgr. Pierre told the St. George family, “to be part of a struggle in your name.”
The Matthew 25 House is a hospitality house for parish representatives involved in the Parish Twinning Program of the Americas. The area near the house became a triage center in the days following the earthquake.
The Haiti ministry at St. George, formed in 2008, has been involved in clean water supply projects, construction, providing solar electric power for the parish complex in LaBruyere, providing pews for the churches and soccer balls for the children. Knights of Columbus Council 6622 donated medical equipment for a medical center. The LaBruyere medical center treats all in the impoverished village and treated refugees from the earthquake’s epicenter.
In addition, the St. George ministry provides funding for teachers at both of the sister parishes in Haiti. This funding allows for the education of 3,000 Catholic and non-Catholic students.
Deacon Beers said money is raised throughout the year from generous donations, profits from the religious articles store at the church, and fundraisers, such as an auction this month.
The religious articles store sells many items handcrafted by Haitian artists from Nativity sets to Madonna figures.
During his visit, Msgr. Pierre attended an Atlanta Braves game and met with resident doctors from an Atlanta medical school to lay the groundwork for cooperation with the School of Medicine at the University of Notre Dame of Haiti.
Msgr. Pierre also volunteered to take donated acetaminophen home for use by the sister parishes. Many of the villagers have been dealing with the painful effects of the mosquito-borne virus, chikungunya.
Some of the children, said Deacon Beers, were unable to stand to receive their first Communion recently.
“There is no cure for chikungunya. It is like severe RA (rheumatoid arthritis), so the best you can do is to alleviate the pain. That is done best with acetaminophen,” he said.
The ministry worked with Newnan pharmacist John Goodrum, who donated 15,000 acetaminophen tabs for those in need.
Beers and project president Roland Roger Jr. urge continued support of the ministry to the Haitians. “These folks don’t have the bare necessities that we take for granted,” said Roger.
“Monsignor is so capable and so spiritual, it is impossible not to be drawn to him as a representative of people who are worthy of our help in Christ’s name,” said Deacon Beers.
Donations for the St. George Church ministry in Haiti can be sent to the parish, 771 Roscoe Road, Newnan, GA 30263. Indicate “Haiti Project” on the memo line of donations by check.