By Jean Francky Guerrier, SJ
He will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away. (Rev. 21:4).
Haiti is struggling. Once known as the “Pearl of the Antilles,” the Caribbean nation has been hit by all manner of political and natural disasters over the past few years. This year alone, the former was evidenced by the assassination of the president, Jovenel Moise, on July 7; the latter was manifested by the 7.2-magnitude earthquake of Aug. 14 that killed thousands of people.
Of course, an earthquake of about the same magnitude (7.0) hit the western part of the country on Jan. 12, 2010, with its epicenter in the capital city of Port-au-Prince. I was in Haiti when that terrible quake killed more than 300,000 people, including many Catholic faithful and priests. The Cathedral of Port-au-Prince was destroyed, and the Archbishop of Port-au-Prince, His Eminence Joseph Serge Miot, was killed. The diocesan seminary of Port-au-Prince was devastated, killing and injuring seminarians. The national palace was destroyed, and schools, hospitals and shopping centers were damaged.
I recall this terrible event as if it were yesterday. I was a first-year Jesuit novice, in the midst of the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola with my fellow Jesuits and a few other religious.
I was preparing for a great spiritual journey and becoming aware of God’s true and unconditional love for me. I was enjoying the realization that I was created to praise and worship God and thereby save my soul. It was a joy to realize that my life is sacred because God created me to give reverence to His divine majesty.
I was experiencing this joy and diving into spiritual bliss … while about 300,000 of God’s sons and daughters, my brothers and sisters, were killed by a devastating earthquake. It was hard to even begin to comprehend.
More than 10 years later, Haiti is still mourning and rebuilding what was destroyed by the earthquake of 2010, only to be hit once again this year by another devastating quake.
Haitian Resilience and the Challenge to Do More
As I was in 2010, I have been deeply consoled to see the same spirit of solidarity between the Haitians who want to save lives and the international community that has arrived in a hurry to help us. People have come from around the world to help a nation in distress.
I have been gratified to see Haitians doing everything they could to help people get out from under the rubble, others sharing water and food, and others donating blood to save lives. In the midst of the disaster, these beautiful images gave me much joy. They have allowed me to hope despite the destruction.
Nevertheless, challenges remain. Some mistakes are repeated again and again.
Why must it take a major disaster to demonstrate our solidarity or to come to the rescue in a hurry? The August 14 earthquake is not the only disaster that should unite us to help Haiti. The country has been in a state of disaster for years.
Haiti is a devastated, abandoned, kneeling country.
For years, the people of Haiti have been victims of social insecurity. Gangs rule the country, openly showing off their ammunition on social media. They demonstrate their power through kidnappings. All sectors of Haitian society are victimized by this scourge, including religious people, priests, doctors, journalists, even the poor who have so little.
No one is being spared, and no one can stop the gangs.
Those who were elected to restore order and stability in the country have shown their incapacity in the face of such a situation. They seem to be concerned only with maintaining their political power.
The images of the August earthquake are heartbreaking. People were piled up, dead and wounded together under the rubble. These frightening images make me recall the night of Jan.12, 2010, when my fellow Jesuits and I walked the streets of Port-au-Prince to save lives and care for the injured.
The same kind solidarity and selflessness is necessary now so that the Haitian people can build a new country, with solid structures and infrastructures that could withstand major damage in the case of natural disasters. These disasters are inevitable. The only thing we can do is be prepared for them.
In the words of Jesuit Superior General Arturo Sosa, “some problems cannot be solved, but we must learn not to be crushed by them. No situation is exactly the same if we learn from what has been experienced.” (Walking with Ignatius, pg. 180)
Haitians have a resilience that allows us to rise above chaos. However, this ability should not preclude us from preparing adequately to avoid the worst when natural disasters strike. This requires a common vision that would allow us to envision a new future for the country, one of hope rather than despair. This common vision includes identifying profitable projects for the country and finding consensus despite differences of opinion.
We Haitians need to practice our maxim: “L’union Fait la Force,” (Unity is strength) and put aside divisions so that Haiti can rise.
Many people are envisioning a new beginning for Haiti, a new creation in which all the sectors of society would come together to rebuild the institutions shattered by the earthquake. It would be a kind of “post apocalypse” – after destruction and death, there is hope for a new creation, a new beginning.
There is hope that we might find an end to the everlasting political hatred and conflicts, to combine the forces of good against the forces of evil that have prevented the development of the country.
This new creation requires a new vision of Haiti as a vibrant, independent, responsible and self-sufficient society based on the common good and including education, health, security and housing strategies.
We understand that the reason for Haiti’s sorrow is not only natural disasters like earthquakes but the succession of political and socio-economic calamities that have impoverished the country and increased the social vulnerability of the population over several decades.
We Haitians need a common perception that things will not be the same as they were in the past. Haiti must end this era and begin a new one. The most recent earthquake can be a shared trauma that obliges the Haitian people to rethink the future differently. It can be an opportunity to put Haiti back on track for development.
The Jesuit Mission in Haiti
The Jesuits in Haiti are actively participating in this precious project by laying solid foundations for the future of Haiti. Although they are currently responding to the emergency caused by the August earthquake, they focus much of their work on sustainable development plans. They are working on projects such as the construction of houses that can withstand natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes.
Several of the Jesuits in Haiti work at the Université Notre-Dame d’Haïti (UNDH), the Catholic university, including Fr. Jean Mary Louis, SJ, who serves as president. Jesuits also run the Faculty of Economics, Social and Political Sciences at UNDH.
Jesuits participate in the overall formation of the human person through the different schools of “Fe y Alegria,” which provide an education to the poorest members of society. They are sensitive to the protection of human dignity and accompany migrants and refugees through Jesuit Migrant Service (JMS).
Jesuits in Haiti also accompany the Catholic faithful through the Jesuit parishes of Ouanaminthe and Jérémie (one of the places devasted by the Aug. 14 earthquake).
In addition, Jesuits in Haiti offer the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola through the spirituality center they run in Port-au-Prince-Tabarre. We believe that the Spiritual Exercises can transform the whole human person, and this is vital to influence important sectors of society for a better future.
The Jesuits in Haiti are empowering the people so that they can have faith in Haiti’s destiny, a faith that has been weakened significantly over the past years. Through our ministries, we are creating new ways of living together by engaging energies that have been restrained for so long. It is ultimately about promoting the idea of an effective Haitian cultural revolution: believing in oneself and in a shared future.
Simply put, we believe that by helping the most vulnerable people of Haiti, we help create hope for the future.
Could the August earthquake be the event that gives rise to a new collective energy in Haiti? The example of other countries recently devastated by a major catastrophe inspires this hope. The latter is possible if we understand that the new creation of Haiti requires the alienation of the forces of evil so that we can restore hope.
Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act. (Psalm 37:4-5)
We must place our trust in God.
Jean Francky Guerrier, SJ, was ordained a priest this summer. He is currently studying theology at Regis College in Toronto and works at Salt + Light Media in Toronto. He has a podcast, Talking with Francky.