Several Haitian priests were in the New Orleans area in recent weeks visiting parishes that have twinned with them through Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans and Catholic Relief Services.
While Father André Prévalus of Sainte Thérèse de l’Enfant Jesus in Darbonne, Leogane, Haiti, was at St. Maria Goretti in New Orleans East to celebrate his parish’s feast day, Msgr. Wildor Pierre and his pastoral president Orival Sauveur was across the lake at Mary Queen of Peace in Mandeville.
“I’m here on behalf of my parish in Darbonne, appealing for the various needs we have,” Father Prévalus, the founding pastor of Sainte Thérèse, a parish near the epicenter of the 2010 earthquake. “We had a lot of damage and deaths due to the earthquake. We lost 100 lives in our parish, and our church building was completely destroyed. The parish school also was destroyed. The six chapels that depend on the parish also were destroyed.”
St. Maria Goretti well understands the power of nature after having experienced flooding by the levee failures of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Msgr. Earl Gauthreaux, pastor, said. When the opportunity to lend a hand to fellow Catholics arose, St. Maria Goretti jumped at the chance.
“There were a number of parishes that needed help, and we decided to take the poorest one,” Msgr. Gauthreaux said. “We can relate to people’s suffering, and we’re trying to help them in any way we can.”
The parish formed a St. Maria Goretti Haiti Partnership Committee about a year ago, assisting Ste. Thérèse de l’Enfant Jesus in its physical needs and to develop a spiritual and emotional bond.
So far, the committee has held fundraisers including a Saints fan basket raffle, two casino trips and a benefit gospel choir concert for Ste. Thérèse. The parish also raised $10,000 and, as a parish twin, secured an additional $5,000 grant from Catholic Relief Services. That money was wired to Father Prévalus and was spent on a new generator and to repair the parish car.
The committee has planned a “Christmas in October” garage sale Oct. 20, and a “5K Run-Walk” Nov. 3, at the church, 7300 Crowder Blvd. in New Orleans.
The emotional bond between the two parishes was forged in August when three parishioners from St. Maria Goretti visited Haiti, Msgr. Gauthreaux said. They bore gifts – a eucharistic paten, ciborium, bells, a cross, an aspergillum (a soda bottle had been used to sprinkle congregants with holy water) and vestments that Father Prévalus lost in the earthquake – from the Archdiocese of New Orleans’ archives. They also brought three laptop computers for parish use.
“We found out that Haiti has come a long way since the earthquake,” Msgr. Gauthreaux said, but the people still live in poverty.
“It was a touching experience,” parishioner Harold Broussard said about the Haiti trip. “Seeing the conditions enlightened us to see the situation as it was.”
During the visit, Father Prévalus wore the vestments they gave him.
“It felt good to know that it was being put to good use,” St. Maria Goretti’s Marilyn DeGrasse said.
Father Prévalus strengthened the bond on a visit here. While in New Orleans, he expressed the need to complete the church and school. The school could use benches, desks and assistance with tuition (many families can’t afford it) and teacher salaries, and the church needs pews or chairs.
Keeping faith hard
Father Prévalus said he had to build the parish from the ground up when he was assigned to it in 2003; there was no church or rectory and he had to lease a house while the church was constructed.
Without an associate pastor, Father Prévalus does his best to serve the estimated 25,000-30,000 Catholics in his parish and six chapels – the closest one approximately 20 to 25 miles away. He averages visiting the chapels every three or four months. Because people are poor, they have difficulty “adapting their faith to their life situation. It makes it difficult for the church to help them keep their life of faith. It’s difficult to get Haitian Catholics to trust God and to serve only him since this is a country of so many faiths.”
He’s been expanding evangelization efforts and holding workshops for catechesis and formation. St. Thérèse also has made strides with its youth groups such as Kiro, Saintété, Ajec and others. DeGrasse said these groups are to start Skyping on the new computers with the youth group from St. Maria Goretti.
Now, 10 years after establishing the parish, the earthquake has forced Father Prévalus to start over again. He said he’s been blessed by the assistance that has come his way. Caritas Mexico has come in and built a new church building to seat 800, and Caritas Switzerland built a state-of-the-art parish school to educate the 400 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
Father Prévalus said the partnership with St. Maria Goretti is equally important.
“For eight years, I have been managing the parish by ‘begging and stealing,’” he said, smiling. “We’ve been hoping for a partnership for a long time. St. Maria Goretti is an answer to our prayer, and we are so happy they chose us and invited us to New Orleans to celebrate our feast day. We have a good relationship and are looking forward to a lot of things happening from this partnership.”
Christine Bordelon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.