The birth of a new parish in rural Haiti: A story by Erik Oland, SJ

March 16, 2020 — On my recent trip to Haiti I visited the southern peninsula for the first time. This is the region of the country that was devastated by Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Part of our itinerary was to visit the village of Carrefour Charles, located in the Massif de la Hotte part way between the northern and southern coasts. The village is typical of a mountain crossroads settlement; a gathering point for villagers and local farmers, and a rest-stop for travellers. The local community has been desirous of having its own parish for several years and most recently the local bishop, Jesuit Gontran Décoste, asked the Society to discern the possibility of providing a priest for the potential new parish. In the Haitian context a new parish church means also an elementary school and a local health centre.    

As we drove into the village, after our twisting and turning mountain drive from Les Cayes, I sensed immediately that our arrival had been anticipated by everyone we passed. Our entry into the village was announced by the sounding of the village bell and as we approached the meeting point – the makeshift chapel that has been the locus of prayers and liturgies of the word for the past number of years – the villagers began to gather behind our vehicle in increasing numbers. By the time we reached the chapel, there were a hundred or so people of all ages moving into the cramped space awaiting the prayer and conversation that was about to take place. I later learned that they had been told that a very important Jesuit had come all the way from Canada to indicate the openness of the Society to undertake such a project. 

The ensuing prayer and conversation were full of spirit and hope. Local leaders expressed their wish to move forward with the project and we, the Jesuits, expressed our gratitude for the welcome and the obvious ground-swell of energy surrounding the possibility of our commitment. During the entire experience I was conscious of Jesus’s advice to the disciples upon sending them out to villages and byways:

Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. (Mt 10, 11-13)

We could not have been welcomed more heartily and sincerely. Indeed, Carrefour Charles is very fertile ground and it is opportune to heed the Gospel imperative of responding to the welcome of the villagers and to join them in the creation of their new parish dedicated to Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus.

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