By Claudia Mathis
Deacon Gregory Cross, a member of the Haiti committee at the Church of St. Michael and St. Peter in Syracuse, is more determined than ever to help his parish’s twin parish, Immaculate Conception in Chauffard, Haiti. He’s seen first-hand the devastation caused by last January’s earthquake in Haiti. He visited the parish last April for five days. Eight schools were destroyed.
Deacon Cross is one of 15 people on the Haiti committee who are looking for financial support to rebuild the schools. “We have a monumental task ahead of us,” commented Deacon Cross.
Ligory Fernandes formed the committee over 10 years ago and Jerry and Kate McMahon joined soon after that. Fernandes had always wanted to do something to help the people in Haiti. He had visited Haiti years ago when he served in PAX Christi USA, a Catholic peace movement. While in Haiti, someone told him about the Parish Twinning Program of the Americas, a non-profit Catholic organization, which focuses on creating lasting sister relationships between parishes in the U.S. or Canada and parishes in countries (primarily Haiti) of the Caribbean and Latin America.
Theresa Patterson, executive director of the organization, said in a statement, “Perhaps the most powerful and most significant lesson gained from working with church people of another culture is that they are truly living Gospel. Once you decide to join and walk with them in their suffering, you become enriched by their faith experience.”
That’s exactly what happened to Deacon Cross when he visited the Haitian parish. He found the experience very inspiring. He was impressed by the Haitians’ faithfulness and resiliency in spite of their hardships. “It was amazing to see,” commented Deacon Cross.
The Church of St. Michael and St. Peter’s sister parish is located 15 miles south of Port-au-Prince in a rugged, remote area. “The poverty there is mind-boggling,” said Fernandes.
Father Julien Estiverne, pastor of Immaculate Conception in Chauffard, ministers to 40,000 parishioners in the area.
Over the years, the Syracuse parish has helped raise money for their sister parish with fundraisers such as chicken and biscuit dinners, Lenten soup suppers, book and bake sales and special collections. They also purchased a four-wheel-drive vehicle, suitable for Chauffard’s rough terrain, for Father Estiverne. Before receiving the vehicle, he traveled by horse. They also sent money to renovate his rectory, which is over 50 years old.
Parishioner Jerry McMahon, a physician, visited the Haitian parish in November of 2008 and 2009. His purpose for the first visit was to become familiar with the area and the second was to work at a week-long medical mission at the clinic in Chauffard.
Fernandes said that education is one of the most basic needs in Haiti and believes, as the other committee members do, that educating the Haitian children is key to improving their future. “Education is not subsidized by the government there and most parents can’t afford to send their children to school,” said Fernandes.
Every two months, the Syracuse parish sends $2,000 to fund school lunches, teacher’s salaries and various other school expenses.
Kate McMahon, chairperson of the Haiti committee, is concerned about the plight of the Haitians. “Our fundraisers have allowed us to meet the community’s needs to a certain degree,” she said. “Haiti is so close to us and it doesn’t take much to help the people and improve their situation. I’m hoping that with the start of the new year, people will see the importance of helping. Rebuilding the eight schools in the parish will require much more money.”
To donate, make checks payable to Church of St. Michael and St. Peter, with Haiti Schools written in the memo line. Checks may be placed in the collection at Mass or mailed to the church at 4782 W. Seneca Turnpike, Syracuse, N.Y. 13215.