Presiding Bishop says Episcopalians must commit to Haiti’s future

Published February 11, 2010

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and Episcopal Diocese of Haiti Bishop Jean Zache Duracin survey the ruins of the diocese’s Cathedrale Sainte Trinite (Holy Trinity Cathedral) in Port-au-Prince.

The wider Episcopal Church can most effectively help the earthquake-ravaged Diocese of Haiti by praying, contributing to emergency relief efforts and planning how it will help the diocese achieve the rebuilding priorities that it will eventually set.

That is the assessment Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori came away with after visiting Port-au-Prince Feb. 8 to survey the damage wrought by Jan. 12 magnitude 7.0 earthquake.

Bishop Jean Zache Duracin and other surviving members of the diocese need help now and they need time to discern a plan for the future, the presiding bishop told ENS during a Feb. 10 interview.

“The challenge is that they’re still very much in emergency-response mode and I think will be for some time to come,” she said. “They’re still not able to get food and water and shelter to everybody who needs it, so that’s got to be the immediate focus.”

Jefferts Schori also said she felt moved by the people who were hard at work at every site she visited. For example, she said, at the ruins of the Episcopal University of Haiti “it was just incredibly touching to see those folks at the university using mauls to break up the building pieces so that they can look for bodies — and they are clearly there, you can smell them.”

The presiding bishop said she went to Haiti after being a co-consecrator at the Rev. Griselda Delgado Del Carpio’s consecration and ordination as bishop coadjutor of the Episcopal Church of Cuba because it was essential to assure Duracin of the wider church’s support. Plus, she said she wanted “to get a sense of how we might be most helpful for the long haul.”

The diocese, known locally as L’Eglise Episcopale d’Haiti, is caring for about 25,000 Haitians in roughly 20 makeshift camps around the country. The earthquake left an estimated 230,000 people dead and many towns in ruins; countless people have left the capital for the countryside.

Jefferts Schori said that the wider church must remember that Haitian Episcopalians, including Duracin, are struggling to get their basic needs met, and that long-term planning will come later.

“The bishop is going to need his own support system in order to return to highly functional leadership,” she said. “Don’t expect the bishop to have a strategy; it is far too early for that. He’s dealing with his own immense losses.”

For instance, Duracin has only seen his severely injured wife Marie-Edithe three times since she was evacuated from Port-au-Prince a few days after the earthquake. Her injured leg was initially treated atZanmi Lasante in Cange and later on the USNS Comfort hospital ship. From there, she and son James were transported Feb. 9 by the by U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force to Tampa General Hospital in Tampa.Diocese of Southwest Florida Bishop Dabney Smith is coordinating pastoral care for the Duracins.

Jefferts Schori said that once the emergency-response phase is behind them, Haitian Episcopalians will be able to begin stabilizing their diocese and strategizing about the future. While Episcopal Relief & Development is well-positioned to help the diocese with emergency needs and help it begin to set priorities for the future as well as develop strategies for meeting those priorities, she said, “ERD cannot do all of that. They do not, for example, rebuild church buildings.”

The presiding bishop suggested that “there’s going to be immense need for partnership for the longer term.”

“Dioceses [in the U.S. part of the Episcopal Church] can probably be most helpful by thinking about how they can mobilize people to assist in that work,” she said.

She suggested that those dioceses could “begin their own rebuilding funds with the trust that direction for how to use those funds is somewhere down the road.”

Meanwhile, Jefferts Schori said she wanted to discourage dioceses from deciding on their own that they will rebuild a specific Haitian church or diocesan ministry building.

“The priorities are going to need to come from the Diocese of Haiti — the priorities and the strategy — and it’s going to be some months before they begin to emerge,” she said.

Individual Episcopalians are called to prayer for their brothers and sisters in Haiti, she said, and to giving to Episcopal Relief & Development.

“You [also] can begin to challenge your parish and your diocese to begin to think about the longer-term rebuilding efforts,” she added. “Collecting funds for that is probably the most appropriate thing to do.”

Jefferts Schori urged Episcopalians to commit themselves to helping in what will be a multi-year process of recovery and redevelopment.

“The Diocese of Haiti has had a major impact for 150 years on the nation of Haiti,” she said. “They will be again, but it’s going to be a number of years before they are able to function at the same level they were before the earthquake.”

The presiding bishop acknowledged that such a long-term focus can be a challenge in itself.

“Maintaining an awareness of the ongoing nature of this tragedy is going to be the toughest for at least those of us who live in a society that moves on to the next issue,” she said.

Jefferts Schori visited Port-au-Prince with the Rev. Lauren Stanley, one of four Episcopal Church missionaries assigned to Haiti and the only one who was not in-country at the time of the Jan. 12 quake. Duracin has asked Stanley to help the diocese coordinate offers of relief and recovery made by others in the Episcopal Church, and to tell the diocese’s story.

“She’s a powerhouse. She’s working overtime. She’s working at 150 percent,” Jefferts Schori told ENS, noting that in Stanley’s first five months in Haiti she had established good working relationships with the Haitian clergy and learned to speak Creole.

“She understands very clearly the challenges and the systemic complications, so she is an immensely effective witness both here [in the U.S.] and in Haiti for the ongoing challenges and needs,” Jefferts Schori said.

— The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is national correspondent for the Episcopal News Service and editor of Episcopal News Monthly.


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