Haitian bishop: Joint effort to rebuild churches helps whole community

Damage to the facade of the Cathedral of St. James and St. Philip is seen in Jacmel, Haiti, Feb. 12.  (CNS/Bob Roller)

Damage to the facade of the Cathedral of St. James and St. Philip is seen in Jacmel, Haiti, Feb. 12. (CNS/Bob Roller)

By Dennis Sadowski Catholic News Service

JACMEL, Haiti (CNS) — Weekend Masses at the Cathedral of St. James and St. Philip are no more.

Since soon after Haiti’s January 2010 earthquake, Mass has been celebrated in a rundown building the Diocese of Jacmel owns adjacent to the 19th-century cathedral.

Worshippers gather for liturgies on three different floors. Those who cannot squeeze into the makeshift chapel on the top level participate on two lower floors by watching Mass via closed-circuit televisions that are difficult to see from more than the first rows of pews.

“People do not like that because they are not used to seeing Mass on television,” Bishop Launay Saturne of Jacmel told Catholic News Service.

But Bishop Saturne’s desire for a unified community worship space is about to be realized.

On May 1, Haitian church leaders will be joined by representatives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and worldwide church officials for the dedication of the new Cathedral of St. James and St. Philip Community Center a short distance from the central city site of the cathedral.

Workers were busy Feb. 12 putting the finishing touches on a $2 million modern structure designed to withstand strong earthquakes and shelter people in hurricanes in this southern coastal city.

The new center was built under the Partnership for the Reconstruction of the Church in Haiti, or PROCHE, a cooperative venture between the Haitian bishops’ conference, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Relief Services and Adveniat, the German bishops’ agency for solidarity with Latin America.

Bishop Saturne praised PROCHE for its ability to deliver on promises to help physically rebuild the church in earthquake-affected areas of Haiti.

“It doesn’t only have an impact on the Catholic faith community, but the entire community,” he added.

The community center is PROCHE’s second major project in the diocese. The first was the rebuilding of a diocesan vocational school now occupied by the University of Notre Dame of Haiti-Jacmel.

PROCHE also is working with the Archbishop Guire Poulard of Port-au-Prince and religious communities to rebuild churches, parish schools, convents and novitiates.

Overall, since its beginning in 2011, the rebuilding partnership has completed eight projects, and about 40 more are in various stages of planning or construction, said Stephan Destin, director-general of the operations and construction unit for PROCHE in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital.

The program began with $33 million, a portion of a special collection initiated by the U.S. bishops after the earthquake.

Msgr. Sauveur Content, the university’s director-general and vicar general of the Jacmel Diocese, credited PROCHE for “restoring the faith in the Catholic Church after the earthquake” because it carried out the project to completion.

“I don’t have the words to describe what this building means to the university,” he told CNS.

PROCHE has not been without growing pains since it was established in 2011. For months, the partners discussed the program’s structure, staff hiring and ground rules for operation. Haitian church leaders have raised concerns about the program for insisting on specifications they consider too stringent and work that proceeds too slowly.

Destin defended PROCHE’s efforts, saying the partners agreed to follow U.S.-style building codes so the risk of serious damage or collapse is reduced.

“What got me concerned was some folks did not understand or did not want to understand what needed to happen, what we needed to do in order to build properly,” Destin told CNS Feb. 11. “Our priority here was to rebuild properly, was to rebuild within three core principles, which were quality, budget and schedule. We weren’t ready to put aside one.”

“We made sure everything we had to do was done before we started construction. If you go by the fact that you start construction and you don’t have the quality, you don’t have the budget and you don’t have the schedule, at the end the same folks who were happy that you started a project are going to come back and say ‘This is what happened’ (if there is a problem),” Destin said.

PROCHE’s deliberate process includes financial transparency and requires strict design considerations, geological testing and quality materials to satisfy the overseas bishops’ conferences and the Florida-based Koch Family Foundation, which have funded the program to date, Destin explained.

Only pre-qualified engineering, architectural and construction firms can bid on projects, and only a handful of Haitian, Dominican and American firms are on board, Destin said.

Destin credited the support of Bishop Saturne for the program’s acceptance in Jacmel.

“He’s the one who took the chance with us. It has resulted in other dioceses joining us at the table,” Destin said.

Bishop Launay Saturne of Jacmel gestures during an interview with Catholic News Service. (CNS/Bob Roller)

Bishop Launay Saturne of Jacmel gestures during an interview with Catholic News Service. (CNS/Bob Roller)

Next up for PROCHE in the Jacmel Diocese is restoration of the cathedral itself. Structural design work has been completed, and efforts are underway to raise the $6 million needed for the project, Destin said.

Bishop Saturne said the people of the diocese, as poor as they are, have raised $25,000 as the local contribution for the restoration.

Mirlene Vivens, vice commissioner of the committee advising Bishop Saturne on the restoration, said PROCHE has answered all of queries she and her 30 colleagues have posed.

“We need them,” he told CNS. “Without them, we cannot do much.”

Elsewhere, PROCHE has worked with the Port-au-Prince Archdiocese in rebuilding churches and schools. Among the most high-prolife projects is the nearly $2 million rebuilding of the landmark Sacred Heart Church. Construction workers began preparing the foundation for the church in February.

In suburban Petionville Feb. 11, about 60 workers were on the site of St. Theresa Church, prepping for the delivery of construction materials. A foundation has been laid and concrete supports were in place.

Destin also said work was scheduled to begin in March on the new Christ the King Church in Port-au-Prince. The church roof collapsed during the earthquake, but some of the walls were deemed stable enough to be incorporated into the design of the $1.8 million building.

In addition, the program has enabled the Congregation of the Little Sisters of St. Therese of the Child Jesus to plan for a new novitiate that is being relocated to Hinche, in Haiti’s central region. The order’s novitiate in Port-au-Prince was destroyed in the earthquake.

Sister Marie Chantale Pierre, mother superior of the congregation, told CNS the new location will be more secure and better serve the young women preparing for their religious vocation.

“The location is perfect for us. I am very happy for the facility,” she said of the $700,000 project.

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