Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The ACC in Haiti

Archbishop Mark Haverland sent me an account of a recent trip he took to Haiti. I am posting it for the following reasons:
1) to demonstrate what Continuing Anglicans are capable of.
2) To draw attention to the needs that still exist among the poor.
That second reason contains a hope that others will be inspired to similar efforts.

Too many people assume that Continuing Anglicans are just a bunch of eccentric old angry people, with tiny congregations, who have their heads buried in the sand. Not being Black or Jewish or left handed, I have only recently grown accustomed to being dismissed by prejudice and being stereo-typed. It's kind of a weird feeling. Gee, let's show them what we're made of.

HAITI 2008
In Michael O’Brien’s novel, Father Elijah, there is a scene on a bus in Rome in which an old woman puts down some loutish behavior. I paraphrase the reaction of the narrator or protagonist to this restoration of order: ‘Civilization is sustained by fierce old women.’ In a slightly different way this scene recalls Saint Augustine’s conversion, which he attributed to the prayers and tears of his patient and determined old mother, Saint Monica.

In October 2006 Canon Marvin Gardner and I encountered a namesake of Saint Monica, who had walked four or five hours from the rural community of Monnonville to meet us in Tapio. Tapio is another rural community, in the chalky hills above the town of Titanyen in the Department of Croix de Bouquets, Haiti. Monique, who clearly was also a determined old woman, had walked to meet us with another elderly woman and with their priest, Father Jean-Baptiste Beaudelet. Father Beaudelet wanted Canon Gardner and me to help them build a school in Monnonville. But the determined old women wanted a water system. In particular they wanted us to cap a ground water source, then to pipe it to five or six spots in their community, so that instead of 15,000 people having to gather water from a single spring - often almost an hour’s walk away - everyone would have water available from a pipe within a five minute walk. In 2007 the ACC and our Mission Society of Saint Paul put in that system.

In July of this year I made my first visit to Monnonville, which involved a jolting drive of one hour to Tapio, then another jolting drive of two hours from Tapio to Monnonville, including one spell stuck in the mud. These trips, by the way, were in the truck the ACC bought Father Bien-Aime last year. It is an incredibly sturdy, used vehicle, and I could not have made the trip otherwise. In Monnonville I was asked to bless the new water system. The blessing would be at the capped source, which Father Bien-Aime and I were told was a five minute walk from the parish. The parish at present consists of a lean-to church with a dirt floor and of a small building with several tiny rooms for the priest (and visiting bishops) and for everything else.

So off we went to do the blessing: ‘we’ including me, in vestments with miter and crozier, the other clergy in cassocks, and perhaps 120 or 140 people. Like Agag I trod delicately, or endeavored to do so, so as to avoid the mud and the litter from goats and chickens and donkeys. After the five minute walk had lasted for 20 or 25 minutes in the blazing sun, we came to a pump and Father Bien-Aime and I stopped. Monique quickly came up and told us that we were NOT at the place to be blessed. I objected that I was hot and tired and not used to hiking in the sun (in vestments) and that that pump would do as well as any part of the system for the blessing. ‘I will carry you,’ Monique offered bluntly in reply. That of course shamed me into completing the march, which happily really did only involve five or ten minutes more. We duly blessed the site, then returned to the parish singing hymns, one of which seemed to be to the tune of ‘Auld Lang Syne’. On the way back Monique had Father Bien-Aime and me peal off from the main procession to bless her house.

After the house blessing, as we completed the walk, Monique reminded me of something from our 2006 meeting that I had entirely forgotten. She said that she had told Canon Gardner and me then that she was old but that her dream was that before she died her village would have water. This year she said, ‘I am still alive, and you have given us water.’ I accepted her thanks on behalf of the Missionary Society of Saint Paul and of our small, poor, dear ACC, which has responded so amazingly to the needs of the people of Haiti and our other poor dioceses.

My six day visit to Haiti this year was timed to coincide with Monnonville’s patronal festival of Saint Vincent de Paul. So in addition to the water system blessing, we observed the feast and the following Sunday with two Masses, the confirmation of 37 children, first Holy Communions, and the reception of new members. 400 or 500 folk attended the Sunday Mass.

We did not do anything in Tapio this year but sleep. However, in Port-au-Prince I visited the orphanage of Ste. Therese, where Father Bien-Aime cares for 26 orphans on site, has a daily feeding program for over 200, and supports with school fees and other assistance some teenagers who have outgrown the orphanage itself. I also visited S. Jean’s school, another ACC institution, which was on summer break: the Haitian school calendar is about the same as that of the typical U.S. school. Later I met the country director for the World Food Program. The WFP had ignored Father Bien-Aime’s letters, but my presence got us a meeting at the top without an appointment. (Sometimes bishops have some uses.) I also helped arrange for a future meeting between Father Bien-Aime and an official from USAID, the humanitarian agency of the U.S. government.

On my final day, we had a meeting with Father Bien-Aime, Father Baudelet, and Father Jean Barnabe, and I saw the site of Father Barnabe’s congregation. Since my last visit the ACC has helped to provide Father Barnabe with a cement (rather than dirt) floor for his congregation’s site.

For the coming year I have two main hopes regarding our work in Haiti. First, we need to sustain what we have, including the school and parish in Tapio, Ste. Therese’s orphanage and S. Jean’s school in Port-au-Prince, and the work of Father Beaudelet in Monnonville. Father Bien-Aime would like to move the orphanage a bit further out of the center city, which would allow for a much larger building at not much more cost: $3,000 per year rather than the current $2,000. Squeezing 26 orphans and their care givers into the current space is a real crush.

Second, when land title questions are firmly settled, I hope we can enable Monnonville to get a cement foundation for their church and help Father Barnabe get walls and some kind of roof for his congregation’s site. Title has to be settled to the satisfaction of the Church and the Vicar General (Father Bien-Aime) as a matter of good stewardship, but Fathers Beaudelet and Barnabe assure me that this will not be a problem. We also might try to help Father Baudelet with transportation. I am considering the possibility of a motorcycle, which might be more practical, given the route to Monnonville, than a larger vehicle.

Haiti is not a physically comfortable place to visit. Once again, however, I return from my trip there with the belief that we are doing much absolutely certain good for many very poor and otherwise unbefriended people. Though on ultimate questions I have always felt great clarity, as I grow older the ambiguities of life and the law of unintended consequences perplex me more and more. Haiti has a way of providing relief from such ambiguities. Our fellow believers in the Caribbean give back to me - and to you too I hope in measure, since your generosity enables our work - as much as we give them. The gifts differ, but all are valuable and should be valued.

– The Most Reverend Mark Haverland

Archbishop & Metropolitan
Anglican Catholic Church


poetreader said...

Wonderful report.

Continuing Anglicanism, though often justly criticized for a 'fortress mentality' has a lot more stories like this. These efforts need to be better known, and more sidely emulated among us.


Canon Tallis said...

Exactly right, Ed. Rome has been in Haiti all these years and what has she done? What has being Roman done for these people? I have my own answers, but I think others need to think about the questions. On the other hand the nations which have embraced Anglicanism and had it as part of their framing are among the richest and freest in the world.
As Anglicans, we rarely think about this as we are frequently too busy doing the things which both increase our prosperity and keep us free, but what I want to know is whether embracing Anglicanism will do the same for the folks in Africa, Asia and Latin America? Will it give them the benefits which it has given the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand?