Haïti: Fear in the Stomach

From January 12, 2010, passing by October 4, 2016, to October 6 this year, the Calvary of the Haitian people has not stopped. Their rosary beads of misfortunes has not ceased to roll out. 

It is Saturday, October 6 at exactly 8:12 pm. The members of the Ignatius Loyola community of Canapé-Vert, where I live, had finished dinner and each of us had gone to our room. Suddenly a fairly strong tremor was felt. All around there was panic. Instinctively I met with my confreres in the little yard behind the house. In the succeeding minutes text messages flew back and forth, and the news spread inside and outside the country. I tried to contact my confreres, friends and relative to assure myself that the worst had been avoided. 

A little later I would learn that a magnitude 5.9 (Richter scale) eathquake had been felt especially in the towns of the North-West department. The epicentre of the quake was located at a depth of 15.3km, about 20 kilometres west of Port-de-Paix, a city some 300km from Port-au-Prince. 

According to the late bulletin of the Civil Protection Authority (DPC), the earthquake of October 6 affected a large part of the north part of the country. The number of deaths has reached 17: 9 in Port-de-Paix, 1 in Saint-Louis-du-Nord and 7 at Gros-Morne. The number of wounded was 333. 

Once again we have had a brush with the worst. The fragile, precarious state in which a whole people stagnates has been laid bare. To their misery, famine, impunity, corruption, violence, and insecurity has been added fear, the constant threat of natural catastrophes. According to Claude Prépetit, director of the Bureau of Mines and Energy (BME), the fault that provoked last weekend’s earthquake had been accumulating tension since 1842. Thus we are not able to rest, while we haven’t even learned the lessons of January 12, 2010. 

All around me I see a people left to their own devices, led by a band of incompetents and venal opportunists, who are often overwhelmed by the most ordinary events. The latest earthquake struck the department with the highest levels of poverty, illiteracy and malnutrition in the world. In the whole country but particularly in this department, where the Society of Jesus is involved through its network of Faith and Joy (“Fe y Alegria”). Schools, everything is urgent. While we are reworking our apostolic planning as a Jesuit region, a more effective presence in this affected zone, going beyond urgent care, moves to the head of our priorities. 

I conclude by reminding you that those who lost their homes in the 2010 quake have not even been re-housed. I still see tents in Port-au-Prince, while the NGOs have grown rich and have spread out awaiting new catastrophes. In Grand’Anse the wounds of Hurricane Matthew are still raw. A Jesuit housing project was one of the most concrete and durable actions in this zone, according to the local people themselves. That said, as superior of the Jesuits in Haiti, I judge that our mission of ‘justice and reconciliation’ makes sense, here in the midst of this beautiful but disfigured people. 

To accompany our people in the permanent quest for dignity and hope is not an option but a duty which comes from the Gospel itself. I invite the universal Society, Jesuits around the world, with our co-workers and friends, to echo the cry of our tired and bruised people, that isolation and forgetfulness may not be added to the list of their sufferings. 

Fr. Jean Denis Saint Félix,
S.J. Superior of the Jesuits in Haïti





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