Haitians can take the lead in confronting challenges


On Jan.10, I, along with Haiti’s cardinal and several other bishops and church leaders from Haiti, the United States and other countries will attend a conference convened by Pope Francis on the fifth anniversary of the earthquake that was this hemisphere’s worst humanitarian disaster of this century so far.

We will reflect on the challenges that confront Haiti and its institutions, such as the Catholic Church, as the country seeks to overcome endemic poverty and political instability.

It is said that the earthquake killed thousands of people. But more correctly, those thousands died because of negligence, the absence of building codes and a considerable dearth of technical competence. In that same year, after a stronger quake in Chile, only a couple of hundred people died, and in New Zealand another quake, again stronger in intensity than Haiti’s, took no lives.

Haiti’s earthquake revealed deep inadequacies in infrastructure and in governance. Five years later, much of these failings remain unremedied. The world responded with compassion and generosity after the earthquake. Yet today, in both the public and private sectors, everyone is frustrated that rebuilding is not further advanced.

That is not to say that there are no gains to celebrate. The Catholic Church in Haiti can point to several achievements. For example, Grand Goâve has a new parish church, Jacmel and Port-au-Prince have provisional cathedrals, several schools have been rebuilt and other churches and schools are soon to come out of the ground. Port-au-Prince’s St. Francis de Sales hospital, rebuilt with donations from U.S. Catholic faithful and Catholic hospitals, will reopen this month.

The Archdiocese of Miami contributed $1 million for a facility built on the outskirts of the capital that now serves as a provisional seminary housing 150 of Haiti’s future priests.

PROCHE — Partnership for Church Reconstruction in Haiti — is a cooperative venture between donor churches in the United States and Europe and the bishops of Haiti that directs funds through a construction management entity within the Haitian Bishops’ Conference to ensure that new construction is built to code and can withstand future tremors and hurricanes. In addition to $70 million for humanitarian relief, U.S. Catholics committed $30 million raised right after the earthquake for rebuilding the church’s infrastructure.

Still, after five years, the pace is too slow and to replace the infrastructure the Catholic Church lost, an additional $200 million over and above what is committed would not be enough. The Catholic Church is a key actor in Haitian society — it is the largest provider of healthcare and education there.

In sum, Haiti’s efforts to rebuild have only barely gotten under way: thus, Pope Francis’ initiative lest Haiti’s needs be forgotten by the rest of the world.

Pope Francis won’t just be asking for donations to build more churches. Haiti needs what he call the “globalization of solidarity” represented by increased foreign investment that will create jobs for its hardworking population.

The creation of jobs in the apparel sector was the basis for the important role the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops played in getting the U.S. Congress to pass original HOPE Act in 2006. The expectation was for 150,000 jobs in the short term. At the end of 2014, there were only 36,000 workers in apparel who nevertheless produce 90 percent of Haiti’s exports.

The potential for growth in the sector is clear. No sooner is a factory space of 10,000-square meters built than are 1,200 to 1,500 workers hired. But for those factories to be built, Haiti needs an effective government to provide essential services as well as the legal framework that encourages investment. At the same time, Haiti is a mostly agrarian society; yet, more than 50 percent of food consumed is imported. Creating opportunities to increase local food production would also lead to real sustainable change for Haiti’s people.

Haiti suffers from extreme material poverty. Haitians must be the main protagonists in their own development but not without help from the human family. The outcome hoped for is a society and an environment that uphold dignity, prosperity and peace.

Thomas G. Wenski is the archbishop of Miami.