Church’s Haiti efforts on hold

Published 9:54 pm Wednesday, January 13, 2010

St. Mary’s Catholic Church parishioner Paul Fletcher was about four hours away from purchasing his airfare for a March trip to Haiti when a violent earthquake struck the Caribbean country Tuesday evening.

“I was getting ready to go to Haiti in March and I was going to buy my ticket last night,” Fletcher said Wednesday.

Fletcher is part of a group at St. Mary’s who regularly visit Haiti, where a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck about 5 p.m. Tuesday. St. Mary’s is “twinned” with a parish in Haiti, about 40 miles from Port-au-Prince, the nation’s capital. Tuesday’s earthquake struck about 10 miles southwest of Port-au-Prince.

As part of the twinning project, the church supports needs within its Haiti twin parish, including church and school construction. Fletcher and others visit regularly to encourage the parishioners in Haiti, check on construction projects and find out what the parish needs.

It was one of those trips Fletcher planned to take in March. However, he does not know if that will happen now.

“I got an e-mail from the priest there last night that said he’s OK, and things are terrible,” Fletcher said, adding the e-mail did not give further details. He replied to ask how the church and town had fared, but had not received a reply by Wednesday afternoon.

Fletcher, who has been involved with Haiti missions for several years, said the earthquake is a devastating event considering the positive progress — albeit by small degrees — the country has made.

“I just hate to see it because [during] my trips going down there, I’ve seen little small changes,” Fletcher said. “You get excited about that, and then this happens and it’s back to zero again.”

St. Mary’s sponsors two schools in its Haiti twin parish, paying the teachers’ salaries and operating expenses. The church recently purchased land to build a permanent school — the current schools are “just cardboard shacks,” Fletcher said.

Fletcher said he now does not know when his next trip to Haiti will happen. He does not plan to go immediately.

“I’d just be in the way,” Fletcher said. “They need more medical people and relief people.”

Mary Ann Collins, the head of the Richmond Diocesan Haiti Committee, said Catholic churches in the Richmond Diocese — of which Suffolk is a part — will take up a collection for Haiti at services on Jan. 23-24, in order to give parishioners advance notice. The diocese then will take all donations and make one check to Catholic Relief Services, which will do the actual relief work.

People who want to donate to the church’s efforts can send checks made out to Catholic Relief Services to Commonwealth Catholic Charities, 1512 Willow Lawn Drive, P.O. Box 6565, Richmond, VA 23230-0565.

Many denominations are collecting money for official relief efforts in Haiti. People who want to donate should check the Web site of their denomination for information.

Ashley Greene, development director for the Suffolk chapter of the American Red Cross, said the organization does not anticipate sending any volunteers to Haiti from Hampton Roads. Financial donations are being accepted at American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, D.C. 20013, or by phone at 1-800-REDCROSS, or online at www.redcross.org. Cell phone users can send a $10 donation by texting “Haiti” to 90999.