“Sometimes I find it hard to look at the deforested mountains in some departments,” says Br. Marcel Charélus, SJ, director of the Centre de Spiritualité Pierre-Favre in Port-au-Prince. Fortunately, Haitian Jesuits such as Br. Marcel and Br. Mathurin Charlot, SJ, are involved in some reforestation projects. The latter, an agricultural technician and one of the oldest Jesuits in Haiti, works in the Artibonite Department with the Project to Support Reforestation and Agricultural Development (PAREDA).
Br. Marcel describes their work and the impact of reforestation. In Haiti, planting trees has many benefits for people.
How do you and Br. Mathurin contribute to reforestation?
Br. Mathurin’s job focuses on the environment. He works in a rural setting, accompanying farmers. He is also involved in reforestation; we don’t see many people up in his area doing this type of work. What he does is very beautiful; he reforests small mountains. He grows a lot of high-quality mangoes. It’s one of his best products, even though he doesn’t like to eat them! The area where he lives is covered with trees: mango trees, coconut palms, tamarind trees. He also grows beans, onions, tomatoes, bananas.
He prepares a lot of fruit-tree seeds, such as lemon and coconut, and gives them to people to plant elsewhere. I do the same at the retreat centre where I accompany people. The place is surrounded by trees.
People often ask: “Marcel, can you give me a mango plant and some flowers? I’d like to plant them, too. They’re beautiful, and there aren’t any where we live.”
Why are the Jesuits in Haiti working on reforestation?
In Br. Mathurin’s time, the country was totally covered with trees. Even I, who am younger than he, remember when my home was totally surrounded by woods, when the mountains were not bare as they are today.
And we Jesuits preach ecology, we often talk about the environment, like our Pope Francis. We are mostly country people, so we are interested in the environment. We have a love for trees, for plants. It’s in our blood.
What impact does reforestation have on the people of Haiti?
There are places in the country that don’t have any trees, places where it’s impossible to live or breathe because of the unrelenting heat of the sun. You can sometimes travel for miles without seeing any trees, it’s completely desolate. And Haiti currently lacks infrastructure. In Port-au-Prince, when there is no rain, everything is covered in dust. When it rains, you’re knee-deep in mud and debris. But where there are plants and trees, you find gentle rain, fresh air, and shade.
People who come to the spirituality centre are amazed to see that we live in a healthy environment, thanks to the trees. They don’t need to stay inside the house or the building; they spend their days comfortably outside, in the shade amidst the fragrant trees and the birds. Even in Haiti’s heat, when we sit under the mango trees, we can breathe. The people who come for retreats do not want to leave! There’s a variety of trees, even fruit trees.
People come to the centre, they relax, and they find fruit to eat. Beautiful mangoes. Or maybe fresh coconuts. Everything tastes good.
It is beautiful!
Fr. Godfroy Midy, SJ, once gave a retreat on beauty. Beauty is more than just aesthetics, it is also the natural environment and our inner world. It includes all that surrounds us, what we breathe, what we eat, what we experience. He took both a biblical approach and an environmental approach. This is beauty.