Haiti is 800 miles off the coast of southeastern Florida. It is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. Poverty there overwhelms the senses and violates our understanding of human dignity. Mother Teresa’s reflections on ministry with the poor brought her to the realization that material wealth often brings a spiritual poverty. Through twinning with Haiti, Americans can have what she called “a class encounter, in which the rich save the poor and the poor save the rich.” A personal connection with Haiti allows Americans and Haitians to recognize the inherent need that impoverished countries and wealthy countries have for each other. We can work toward wholeness as we give and receive the gifts that each has to offer the other.
Haiti Ministry and the Commission of the Diocese of Richmond had its beginnings with a group of 10 people who met with Bishop Walter F. Sullivan on July 25, 1983 to strategize about a possible outreach of the Diocese to the people of Haiti.
The Richmond Diocesan Haiti Ministry continues to flourish under the leadership of His Excellency Bishop Barry Knestout, diocesan staff and the Haiti Ministry Commission. Over the past 30 years the Diocesan Haiti Ministry developed many facets of this relationship with Haiti. The major emphasis and foundation of the Haitian ministry is the twinning program. In 2018 there are approximately 51 parishes, schools, etc., in the Diocese of Richmond twined with a parish, organization or group in Haiti. Primarily the twinning relationships are located in the Diocese of Hinche but there are also twinning relationships in other parts of Haiti; on the Island of La Gonave, Pignon, Cap-Haitian, Port-au-Prince and Jacmel. The twinning program is based on relationship and solidarity. It is understood that each partner has gifts to share with the other and that we stand with each other as we journey forward in faith. Following is a more comprehensive history of Haiti Ministry.
Richmond Diocese Haiti Twinning came about from various influences, not the least of which was the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). How is that? The council’s admonition to “read the signs of the times” was the spirit that led to Latin America Bishops adopting a “Preferential Option for the Poor,” (Medellin 1968). Bishop Oscar Romero became a voice for El Salvador’s poor and paid the price with his martyrdom in 1979. Around that time, 1980-81, Haitians were fleeing oppression under Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier and began a great exodus of boat people. Sisters of the Holy Names, Adele DellaValle and Rose Gallagher, ministered to men in the migrant camps around Chilhowie, VA. Bishop Sullivan met them and purchased the House of Hope in Roanoke as a Refugee Resettlement Center. In 1983 the Christian Children’s Fund, of which Bishop Sullivan was a Board member, was considering a presence in the Caribbean. Xaverian Brother Cosmas Rubencamp, Director of Diocesan Campus Ministry, recollects that what may have concretized the “twinning” concept for Bishop Sullivan was an event in El Salvador, around 1983, which included the Bishop of Cleveland that had a long twinning relationship with a diocese there. Thus, the idea of diocese-to-diocese twinning was born and openness to the signs of the times moved Bishop Sullivan to act on behalf of the poor beyond our borders.
Catholic campus ministers, including Ed Gerardo of VCU and Father Ron Seguin of William & Mary had either traveled to or sent students to Haiti on immersion retreats. Missionhurst Father Bill Quigley of Harrisonburg was “on fire” with a love for the poor on the Island of LaGonave. In 1983 Bishop Sullivan brought together a small group that included Mr. Gerardo, Father Sequin and Brother Cos and requested a Pastoral Plan for diocesan Outreach to Haiti that was formally approved in 1984.
On June 21, 1984, Bishop Sullivan, Brother Cos, and Sister Cora Marie Billings of the Office of Black Catholics went to Haiti to explore the outreach options. According to Brother Cos, “We spent a couple of days in Port Au Prince, then went to La Gonave, where Bill Quigley was the pastor in Anse-à-Galets. Then back to Port Au Prince and to Trouin (down toward Jacmel) [where St Peter’s in Onley already had a twinning relationship]. We met with Archbishop Ligonde at the cathedral in PaP on our last day and then came home.” On that trip they began to focus on Hinche at Father Bill’s suggestion. The Missionhurst (Scheut) community were responsible for most of the parishes in what was then the Hinche diocese, and Bishop Sullivan knew them from their American headquarters in Arlington (which used to be in the Richmond diocese). Bishop Sullivan’s reflections on the trip appeared in Tidings articles in two issues of The Catholic Virginian for July 16 and July 30, 1984.
On a subsequent trip in July-Aug 1985, Brother Cos got to the Central Plateau for the first time and met with Bishop Leonard Laroche (August 2nd) to first broach the parish twinning idea with him. Brother Cos also met Pere Claude Dubuisson (Maissade), Father Bill (who had been transferred to Cerca La Source), Pere Leveque Bien-Aime (Thomonde), and others about parish-to-parish twinning. In October (Oct 7, 1985) Bishop Sullivan sent a letter to Bishop Laroche to confirm his support for twinning: “I am very excited about the possibilities of the concept of twinning (jimelaj). We are looking for ways in which we can learn from the parishes of Haiti and for ways in which we can help them. We will try to find ways in which our parishes can walk together in the service of Jesus Christ, our Liberator.” Bishop Laroche later visited the diocese and both bishops attended a Haitian Festival on the Eastern Shore for visitors from twinning parishes and migrant Haitian farm workers, ministered to by Blythe Batten, where they concelebrated liturgy in Kreyòl.
Notably, there has never been a formal “twinning agreement” between the two dioceses. It evolved from a few parishes establishing a twinning relationship to the relationship we have today. These early twins include St. Nicholas (Virginia Beach) twinned with St. Anne’s (Maissade) and Blessed Sacrament (Harrisonburg) and St. Francis of Assisi (Staunton) twinned with Anse-à-Galets on La Gonave. Other Missionhurst parishes identified for twinning include Cerca La Source, Saltadere, Cerca Carvejal, Los Palis, Mombin Crochu, and Montrouis.
Coup in Haiti: Diocesan-sponsored travel to Haiti was temporarily suspended.
Background: Haitians became fed up with the oppressive regime of Jean Claude Duvalier who was expelled on February 7, 1986. Chaos ensued. Grassroots movements in Haiti and abroad facilitated a democratic movement leading up to the election, in 1990, of Jean Bertrand Aristide. Aristide was exiled by a military coup 9 months later. Life in Haiti became dangerous; the US State Dept. issued travel advisories.
For the Haiti Justice Issues Committee, consisting of twinned parish representatives from across the diocese and staffed by Kathleen Kenney, Office of Justice and Peace, and focused on the Bishop’s belief that we must work for a peace with justice, the direction became quite clear: advocacy on behalf of and in solidarity with the people who were being hunted down and killed, most of whom were the poor who had found hope for democracy in Aristide, and the mass exodus of “boat people” fleeing the violence by sea towards Florida. Since this was before diocesan use of the internet and email, the committee created a telephone tree of twinned parishes and groups so as to activate calls, letters, visits to U.S. legislators and the State Department, the Organization of American States. The foci of diocesan advocacy were: to recognize the “boat people” as refugees and grant them temporary legal status, to support the economic embargo against the illegitimate government in Haiti, and to work to restore Aristide as president.
Since the violence in Haiti made it impossible to continue with the Haiti Retreats and Twinning visits, diocesan Solidarity took on other forms of participation. The Haiti Justice Issues Committee encouraged local “immersion” types of events such as parish retreats that incorporated Catholic Social Teaching and a better understanding of how it might apply to Haiti and our relationship with Haiti. There were also immersion trips to DC for lobbying and training in advocacy, Civilian Observer Missions, and the Pax Christi USA Campaign “Cry for Justice”. Our diocese listened to the Signs of the Times and stood in Solidarity with our Haitian sisters and brothers.
A major structural adjustment in Haiti Twinning evolved following a joint meeting of the Haitian Ministry Commission, Haiti Justice Issues Committee, and Haiti Experience Committee. It was determined that justice was so integral to twinning that it would be incorporated into all committees and programs. Result: Haiti Justice Issues and Haiti Experience Committees were merged and a new Haiti Solidarity Committee (HSC) was created with Adele as Chair and Kathleen, as Liaison. Brother Cos continued as Liaison to the Haitian Ministry Commission (HMC).
Kathleen posed the idea of a Haiti Resource Person to coordinate the Twinning. Bishop Sullivan appointed Adele. His dream was “that every parish in the diocese enter a twinning relationship with a community in Haiti.” Adele began by gathering a database, developing a Twinning Start-Up Packet, and with her husband Bob (full-time appointed volunteer) to transverse the diocese with the goal to “grow the twinning”. At that time approximately 20 parishes were formally twinned.
The HSC also began a process of writing Guidelines for Twinning, adopted in 1996, key elements of which serve us to this day, most especially the emphasis on relationship vs. money. People were invited to view themselves as “pilgrims” when going to Haiti. A handout called “Tourist or Pilgrim” by Paul Robichaud, CSP, was part of the new orientation packet. In it, he states: “The opportunity truly to engage the holy, to be given the time to open oneself to the transcendent and to be touched or challenged by something outside of ordinary experience is rarely present. Yet these elements are fundamental to an authentic pilgrimage.” In other words, rather than ask what we could do for our Haitian sisters and brothers, be open to the gifts they have to share with us.
Many, many forces contributed to the ongoing health and continuance of twinning, among these, significantly, “A Haiti Update,” the bulletin for announcing and exchanging news; “Action Alerts,” which focused on current calls for Advocacy; “Kreyol Rapid,” one-week basic immersion courses in Haitian Creole, managed by Brother Cos; the diocesan vehicle and Thimothee Samuel who safely steered us over Goat Mountain and through many a river. In 1998 Adele formed, with Theresa Patterson, a coalition with the National Haiti Parish Twinning Program. In time, diocesan groups evolved that focused on vital twinning concerns of education, health care, and child welfare: the Haitian Education Fund, the Haitian Health Care Ministry Fund, and the Maison Fortune Orphanage Foundation.
The first Annual Haiti Gathering was held on April 19 at Holy Comforter Church, Charlottesville. Kathleen came up with the name: “A Haiti Gathering”. Drums were used throughout the day. The Keynote Speaker was Father Tom Caroluzza. Fr. Tom was quick, in 1981, to open his rectory as a home for those first Haitians in Roanoke and had all the credentials to speak of the parish as a school for missionaries. Over 60 people from Norton to Tidewater attended, including 12 Haitians from Roanoke – some of whom shared stories of their perilous boat exodus. At that time 22 parishes were twinned with 16 in process.
Second Haiti Gathering – April 18, 1998 – St. Thomas Aquinas Church, Charlottesville. Keynote: Dr. Marie Racine (Haitian) “Keeping the Flame Alive”. Attendees were invited to create a Parish Twinning Banner. The Bishop Sullivan Recognition Award was presented to Frisnel Joseph and Jean Marie Cotis, representatives of the Haitian Association in Virginia. “We never forgot our roots.”
Those first Haiti Gatherings harnessed enthusiasm, joy, and solidarity and that spirit set precedence.
Bob DellaValle-Rauth became known as “Advocacy Bob”. Haitians were always included as participants and speakers. The Gatherings read like a history of Haiti and reflected our accompaniment.
In 2005 Adele and Bob left the position of Haiti Twinning Resource with 58 parishes twinned.
2005: Appointment for an Associate Director for Haiti and International Affairs
In 2004 a major restructuring process of the Office of Justice and Peace resulted in combining the responsibilities of the three-part time staff positions for the Haiti ministry into one full time staff person. This change took place in March of 2005 with the hiring of a new Associate Director for Haiti and International Affairs.
Early in the fall of 2005, 42 people involved in the Haiti Ministry from across the diocese gathered at Shalom House for a strategic planning process to chart a course for the next several years. As a result of the strategic visionary process, the next five years would make a priority the continued emphasis on relationship between Haitians and Americans through the twinning ministry. The strategic planning participants also set into motion an organizational structure to facilitate collaboration and integration of the various boards and committees with the primary goal of supporting twinned relationships. Under the newly organized structure, and the leadership of the Haitian Commission, several new areas of ministry were realized with some significant accomplishments. First, as a result of a joint Diocese of Hinche and Diocese of Richmond meeting in Haiti, the Joint Sustainable Development Committee was established. The result was a collaborative effort focusing on education, projects and efforts that would be economically and ecologically sustainable for Haitians. Over the next several years joint meetings were held twice a year. As a part of the Sustainable Development Committee, The Battaglia fund was established when $80,000 was bequeathed to the Haiti Ministry from the Last Will and Testament of Gaspare Battaglia. The funds provided seed money for a matching grant program enabling twinned parishes to begin sustainable development projects. The program has resulted in numerous projects with the hope of providing Haitians a self-sufficient livelihood. One of the projects includes a partnership with Virginia Tech and Caritas Hinche on an experimental farm in Maissade.
Other accomplishments included continuing the Annual Haiti Gathering, a focus on understanding the Haiti Ministry through the lens of Catholic social teaching, raising funds and purchasing a new Diocesan Jeep for groups traveling to Haiti, creating policies and procedures to comply with Diocesan regulations and safety measures. The four Regional Haiti Gatherings were established to foster communication and the exchange of information between the Haiti Coordinator and the twinned parishes, and also between twinned parishes in a region. Additionally, diocesan sponsored retreats to Haiti were re-established with updated training manuals for pre- and post orientation sessions. The importance of legislative advocacy (well established by the work of Kathleen Kenney and Bob DellaValle-Rauth) for just United States laws and policies toward Haiti continued.
History changed for Haiti and the twinning program in an instant on January 12, 2010 as a result of the 7.0 magnitude earth quake which hit close to Port Au Prince. This catastrophic quake resulted in 200,000 casualties and another 1.5 million people left homeless. Along with the international community, the Diocese of Richmond was quick to respond. Because many of our twinned relationships are located in the central plateau, our response largely came in the form of sending aid to our twinned parishes in order to meet the needs of many refugees from Port Au Prince. New goals for the country of Haiti resulted from the earth quake including a vision for more self-sufficiency of its people, strengthening of Haitian governmental and public structures, decentralization of institutions, and more Haitian based decision making. In its continuing collaboration and concern for our twinned partners, the Diocese of Richmond embraced these goals and continues to work with our friends to build solidarity and uphold human dignity.
Underlying the accomplished work, the Haiti Ministry was inherently rooted in a spirituality of solidarity. The relationships built between Haitians and Americans reflected the co-creative endeavor to, in solidarity, heal and right the brokenness of relationships between those who are impoverished and oppressed, and those who are wealthy and oppressors. Mother Teresa reflects aptly this belief. Her reflections on ministry with the poor brought her to the realization that material wealth often brings a spiritual poverty. Through twinning with Haiti, Americans can have what she called “a class encounter, in which the rich save the poor and the poor save the rich.” A personal connection with Haiti allows Americans and Haitians to recognize the inherent need that impoverished countries and wealthy countries have for each other. We can work toward wholeness as we give and receive the gifts that each has to offer the other.
As the needs of the Diocese changed, so did the work of the Office of Justice and Peace. In September of 2009, Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo asked that the Office be restructured to be of better service to parishes across the Diocese. As a part of this restructuring, Commonwealth Catholic Charities (CCC) assumed management of the Office. Falling under the management of CCC allowed the Office of Justice and Peace to take on a regional model of service, allowing a staff member of the Office to assume responsibility of working with Parishes to develop their social ministries and to provide faith formation in the Church’s social teaching to parishes in their assigned region. Each regional coordinator began to provide direct support to specific parishes in all the ministry areas managed by the Office of Justice and Peace. These ministry areas included Respect Life, Haiti and Global Solidarity Ministry, Domestic Poverty Alleviation, Migrant Ministry, Prison Ministry, and Catholic Social Teaching Education.
After an extensive search, a new Director of the Office of Justice and Peace was appointed to implement the regional model of ministry and to continue and strengthen the work of the Office across its priority areas. In addition to his duties the Director, was responsible for providing support and assistance to the parishes in the Diocese of Richmond twinned with a parish or community in Haiti.
The major accomplishments during this time with the Haiti ministry included streamlining the corporate structure of the incorporated Diocesan ministries with a mission in Haiti, strengthening the ability of the Haiti Ministry Commission to provide guidance and oversight to the Diocesan ministry with Haiti, finding additional financial support for the Battaglia Fund, and finding financial support for a plan developed by the presbyterate of the Diocese of Hinche to begin an agricultural project focused on researching new agricultural techniques, training farmers across the central plateau in those techniques, and the production of agricultural goods.
Believing that the people of Haiti must be the agents of their country’s development, the efforts of the Office of Justice and Peace in Haiti Ministry were designed to promote responsibility and leadership within the Haitian community, and sustainable planning for the social and economic development of local Haitian communities.
In May of 2013, it was announced that the Office of Justice and Peace would be re-integrated into the Diocese of Richmond’s Pastoral Center at which time the director resigned and passed the baton. Under new leadership in the Office of Social Ministries, the Haiti Ministry Commission concentrated on sustainability, leading to the development of the Peer Review Process in 2014. The structure of The Haiti Commission and its three support teams (Education, Healthcare and Sustainability) remains to date.
Twinning relationships have always been the heart and soul of our Solidarity with the people of Haiti. The Internet now plays a large part in the dissemination of information but twinning was born out of personal encounters. The early disciples were never the same after meeting Jesus, neither do we in the Diocese of Richmond, after meeting the people of Haiti. As we move to the future, we hope to continue these encounters with the people of Haiti through the Haiti Twinning partnerships.