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Local Catholics reach out to Haiti

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

ARCHDIOCESE  —  When Luc Fils heard of the devastating earthquake in Haiti his thoughts flew to his cousins, uncles and aunts who still live there.

“It was pretty heart-wrenching when I first received word,” said the University of Dayton sophomore whose parents came to the United States from Haiti more than 25 years ago. “My mom, my uncle [who is a priest in the United States] were telling me what the story was. I wish could have done something more.”

While relatives in Haiti lost some property, no one was badly hurt or killed, Fils said. Most of his extended family lives in Jacmel.

It was several days before Fils’ parents heard from family in Haiti. “They couldn’t get in touch with them all [that first] week,” he said. “Their communications were shot. Jacmel was one of the biggest areas affected.”

Fils has asked the Marianists at the UD to pray for his relatives and for help for them.

Born in Connecticut and raised in Florida, Fils has visited Haiti.

“It’s a beautiful country. It’s just had a run of bad luck,” he said. “They still have this ability to make what little they have, what time they have, rich moments in their lives. It’s collective. It’s the culture.”

Fils is grateful for the world’s response to the disaster, along with the compassion.

“With all the love and outpouring that has been shown…that’s one of the good things that came out of this tragedy,” he said. “Even though there might be a little bit of restlessness among the survivors of the earthquake, it still brings the world together.”

The tragedy also hit home at St. Henry Parish in Dayton, which has twinned with Sts. Simon and Jude Parish in Port-au-Prince for two years. The news from their sister parish has not been good, said St. Henry pastor Father Thomas Shearer.

The rectory was damaged and Missioners Father Andrew Labatorio, the pastor, is sleeping outside. He is helping parishioners with medical attention, but the situation is getting violent.

In emails, Father Labatorio writes about the destruction around the parish and growing concerns about weather and unrest. The emails were posted on St. Henry’s website.

“Restlessness and lawlessness [are] getting inside the evacuation camps,” Father Labatorio wrote. “If it continues to go like this, I fear for my own safety. Every day the needs [are] getting bigger and it’s becoming beyond my capacity.

“I already sent more than 100 families to the provinces. My resources [are] exhausted. I still have few families in my compound, but it’s a manageable for now. Soon I will keep the compound free of children and women. My rectory is not the safest place if lootings/riots start to rise in the capital. But as long as I can do what I can do to help those I can, I will.”

St. Henry parishioners, committed to build a medical clinic for the Haitian parish before the earthquake, have also been praying and raising money for Sts. Simon and Jude.

“This is the talk of the parish right now. We’re just all so engaged in this,” Father Shearer said. “What this has done for us is to understand that with blessings come responsibility.”

The collection taken at parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Cincinnati Jan. 16-17 or 23-24 had netted $390,000 for Haiti as of Jan. 25.

St. Remy Parish in Russia has had a relationship with a sister church in Haiti — Our Lady of Victory in Balan — since 2005. With support from St. Remy parishioners, the Haitian parish has been able to improve its school and is nearing completion of a medical clinic. According to Dave York, who along with wife, Bonnie, has made five trips to Haiti, the school had 250 children in the kindergarten through third grade in 2005, and now has 650 students through the ninth grade.

“Our goal is to help them help themselves,” York said. “The most pressing needs there are education and agricultural instruction. We’re trying to get an agricultural school started. The people of Haiti should be able to feed themselves, but they don’t even come close.

A group from St. Remy, including the Yorks, Ed Borchers, Marilyn Polhman, Darrin Poeppelman and Adam Schweiderman, was in Balan at the time of the earthquake.

“When it took place, we were in a pickup truck on the way back to the parish,” Bonnie York said. “We were getting jostled back and forth so much because of the roads, we wouldn’t have known the earthquake hit. We felt tremors later in the evening.” The group’s return home was delayed by several days because the airport was closed, but they were eventually able to get a flight out on another airline, Dave York said.

“We have many friends in Haiti and it was hard leaving them behind because their lives have changed so much,” Bonnie York said.

The Yorks say they plan to return to Haiti next year to continue their work. “They need us,” said Dave York. “The next two-to-six months will be extremely difficult, but with the eyes of the world on Haiti, I believe their situation will improve dramatically and they will recover from this, especially if the Haitian people, the government and the church take the ball and run with it.”

David Eck and Eileen Connelly, OSU, contributed to this story.

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