Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Addressing a critical need in Haiti

By FATHER JOHN C. KIERAN, Commentary | Published December 23, 2014

Did Mary have a midwife? Details of our Savior’s birth are lost in history, yet we might surmise that Mary was aided by a local midwife, since that profession is described in Egyptian literature as early as 1900 B.C.

Today, most mothers can count on medically trained midwives to assist their delivery, in highly sanitized units, along with much backup equipment and ICU care if needed. Birthing in the United States is generally a first-class procedure, with first-class comforts and a profusion of gifts. Not so in the developing world!

In Haiti, just 300 miles off the Florida coast, the vast majority of mothers give birth on an earth floor, assisted by a “femme sage” who lacks medical training. It is a credit to the endurance of the Haitian people that so many infants survive. Tragically, 12 percent of children die before their fifth birthday, while infant deaths are 52.44 per every 1,000 births.

Visitation Hospital Foundation is addressing the critical need for medically trained midwives. Dr. Tom Grabenstein, on the board of trustees for the foundation, said, “Too often preventable medical issues are not detected, leading to life impairment and early death. At Visitation, we receive patients suffering from birthing irregularities, requiring advanced care and the burdening extra cost.”

The foundation, in agreement with the Haitian government, has agreed to place three trained midwives in the Riviere de Nippes region. They will assist birthing and also have easy access to medical support from the staff at Visitation Hospital.

Visitation is a U.S.-funded hospital (clinic) created by the Parish Twinning Program (PTPA) based in Nashville, Tennessee. PTPA supervises the linking of over 350 U.S. parishes with parishes in Haiti and South America. Many parishes have long-term agreements with their sister parishes to provide assistance, mostly by way of catechetical and educational supplies, medicines and funding.

St. Pius X Church, Conyers, has twinned with Annunciation Parish of Los Palis in the Hinche Diocese for 15 years. The Conyers Haiti Committee has formed strong ties with the people of Los Palis. Committee chairman Dr. Michael Manning said, “Our medical mission work has raised health standards for these vulnerable people by introducing water purification, medical screening, and by funding the first high school in the village.”

Clearly, twinning with a developing world parish is a practical and effective way for the established church to help its less well-off fraternal churches.

In the early 1980s, Harry Hosey, founder of PTPA, challenged me to make a commitment to help a struggling parish in Haiti. His bold Gospel request has been on my mind ever since. By twinning, fellow parishioners and I have reaped many spiritual blessings and have seen new life and new hope blossom in the deprived communities we work with.

Pope Francis is right on the mark in emphasizing that the developed church must reach out and aid those who are struggling. Our identity with Jesus is revealed in the way we treat others—especially the “have-nots” of the world.

My global mission is to promote aid for the Haitian people, in particular support for the Visitation Hospital Foundation. We need U.S. doctors, medical personnel and donors to share their talents and treasure. The hospital is equipped to U.S. medical standards and has a guesthouse for visiting U.S. medical personnel. Medical teams regularly provide short-term pro bono work at Visitation. They return deeply satisfied about the facility and the standard of medical care administered.

Can you help?