Local Haitians show concern, pray for loved ones

SOUTH END -- In the days immediately following the Jan. 12 earthquake that devastated the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, while many were still seeking news of loved ones or grieving loss, much of Boston’s Haitian community turned to the Church for information and solace.

The day following the quake, while the extent of the damage was still unclear and communications with Haiti difficult, Catholic Charities hosted a meeting at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross where members of Boston’s Haitian community were briefed by local and national leaders on the status of relief efforts and received messages of support. Also, prayer services have been held at parishes throughout the archdiocese.

The meeting at the cathedral drew over 1,000 members of Boston’s Haitian community. Speakers included Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley, Sen. John Kerry, Gov. Deval Patrick, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, Haitian-American State Representatives Marie St. Fleur and Linda Dorcena-Flory, Catholic Charities President Tiziana Dearing, and American Red Cross of Massachusetts President Debra Jackson. Also in attendance were Sen. Paul Kirk (D-Mass.) and Attorney General Martha Coakley.

In his remarks, Cardinal O’Malley praised the “determination and resolute spirit” of the Haitian people and assured the crowd that good can result from this tragedy. Cardinal O’Malley expressed his hope that people throughout the world will come together to address Haiti’s social climate.

“Our ardent hope is that the present tragedy in Haiti will mobilize members of the community to address the ongoing problems of Haiti and seek solutions to the longstanding social problems that have taken a toll on Haiti and forced thousands of Haitians to leave their homes and seek a new life,” he said.

Cardinal O’Malley also told the crowd about the second collection and that Catholic Relief Services had pledged $5 million for relief efforts.

Sen. Kerry said the United States military was already active in aid efforts in Haiti, and he expressed his support for granting temporary protection status to Haitians living in the United States.

“It would be absurd not to do that,” he said to thunderous applause.

Gov. Patrick told the crowd his office has been in touch with the White House to coordinate relief efforts at the state level.

“I know the lack of information is the hardest thing for all of us, but I know there are many stories and miracles that need to be told,” Patrick said.

Menino spoke about relief at the local level, listing local agencies and phone numbers that could help the 80,000 Haitian-Americans living in Boston. He announced that grief counselors were available to help the Haitian children in Boston schools cope with the quake and that a fund had been set up through Bank of America to support the relief efforts in the island country.

“All Bostonians are with you during these difficult times,” Menino said. “People across the world are feeling sorrow and sadness. We are particularly hurt in Boston because so many have family and friends living in Haiti.”

“I wish I knew all the answers you are looking for this evening,” he added.

Dearing announced that her office had been in touch with Catholic Relief Services, which has two offices in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital. She said supplies had begun to reach the people there. She also promised to provide staff and support to the Haitian multi-service center in Boston.

“Our focus in the coming days is going to be to work with our partners to identify the resources that are and will be available to the Haitian community,” Dearing said.

Prayer services held in parishes throughout the archdiocese also offered Haitian-Americans additional sources of support.

“They turn to the Lord and to the Church and to their faith, like they have before,” said Father William Joy, pastor of St. Angela Merici Parish in Mattapan and St. Matthew Parish in Dorchester, two predominantly Haitian parishes in the Archdiocese of Boston. “Some of them understand, but some of them don’t understand what their parents are going through.”

“(Faith) gives them an anchor in the storm that they’re experiencing that they can turn to and rely on. It gives them a sense of direction,” Father Joy said before a prayer service at St. Angela’s Jan. 13. “Coming together like this, they realize they are not alone. They are suffering the same anxieties.”

“Our faith in the resurrection gives us the strength and the courage to face these difficult times,” Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley added during his talk at the St. Angela’s service.

For many, attending prayer services offered a way to cope with tragedy.

“That’s why I came here to pray,” said Molly Collot, a parishioner at St. Angela’s who has family members in Haiti. “That might help me.”

While Collot was speaking to The Pilot, her oldest daughter was comforting her younger daughter, 14. As of the night of the service, Collot had been able to speak with some family members in the Caribbean country but not with others.

Jean Gilles, 62, who had learned that his family members there are alive and uninjured, said that the quake has instilled a desire for volunteering in the community.

“This really changed me inside,” he said. “I’m really open, when I retire, to go help,” he said.

Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley authorized a second collection to be taken up at the parishes either on Jan. 16 and 17 or on Jan. 30 and 31. Monies from that collection will be turned over to Catholic Relief Services to aid the relief efforts. Additionally, students at St. Jerome School in Weymouth raised nearly $1,600 for Catholic Relief Services and Immaculate Conception Parish in Stoughton will host a fundraiser Jan. 29 to raise money for parishioners to travel to Haiti and build a school.