Bishop Hying

Relationships forged in Haiti become transformative expressions of universality of the Church

As published in the Northwest Indiana Catholic on December 10, 2017


       Twelve years ago, Bishop Dale J. Melczek established a sister relationship between our diocese and Fort Liberate, the poorest diocese in Haiti, which is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.  Since that time, an annual collection taken in our diocese has helped to finance the operation of the parish schools in Haiti. Bishop Melczek visited our sister diocese twice, and last week, my fortunate turn arrived, which allowed me to spend three days in Haiti, along with ten others from our diocese.

       The experience was an extraordinary blessing!

       Bishop Quesnel Alphonse of the Fort Liberate diocese warmly welcomed us on Christ the King Sunday with gracious hospitality, lodging and a meal for all 11 of us in his home. On Monday morning, his College of Consultors and our diocesan delegation met, seeking to learn more about each other’s dioceses.

       Composed of 33 parishes and served by 60 priests, many of whom are quite young, Fort Liberate lies on the northern coast of Haiti. Almost every parish has a school. The people are very poor, eking out a living through subsistence farming, growing coffee or sugar cane or selling items in the streets. Children, all dressed beautifully in colorful uniforms for school as they walk long distances to attend classes, are everywhere. The landscape and the weather are beautifully tropical.

       Haiti shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, originally colonized by Spain and later taken over by the French. In 1803, the African slaves in Haiti threw off their oppressors, establishing the first independent republic in the New World. Despite this promising beginning, Haiti never achieved justice and peace. Controlled by dictatorships and military juntas, the country was never able to build democratic structures or work for the common good. 

       Until the 1980s, the Duvaliers were in power, destroying any opposition to their oppressive authority through violence, intimidation and murder and holding the resources of the nation as their personal possession.

       The vast majority of the population has been repressed in a crushing poverty; most people somehow surviving on $1 a day. Quality education, health care, housing, nutrition and employment all remain out of reach for the majority of Haitians. When Pope John Paul II visited the country in 1983, the first thing he said in Creole was “Things need to change here.” 

       This phrase became the rallying cry for a popular social movement which peacefully overthrew the Duvalier regime. Haiti remains a place of profound contrasts - beautiful people and dehumanizing poverty, spiritual joy and deep suffering. This is a nation resourceful and smart, yet one kept from reaching its full potential.

       Priests, deacons and lay people from four of our diocesan parishes joined me on this journey, all hoping to establish “twinning” relationships with parishes in Fort Liberate.  Each parish group spent Tuesday visiting their partner parish, some of which lie in the hills far away from the city. The meetings went beautifully, as our folks met with the pastor, the lay leaders, and experienced the local reality of the parish with which they hope to partner.

       As you can imagine, the needs are great - repairs to the buildings, sound systems, learning materials for the schools, new vehicles, even road repair.  In many places, the Church functions as the government because of the lack of resources and the urgency of the suffering.

       Everyone involved wants these twinning partnerships to grow slowly, to become flourishing relationships of prayer, comm, spirituality and mutuality.  More than just raising money for projects, these friendships between communities in both Fort Liberate and Gary will become transformative expressions of the universality of the Church and the grace which always flows when we join hands and hearts together in Jesus Christ. 

       I am so happy and grateful that our relationship is moving from the diocesan level only and embracing the parishes as well. Many thanks to Deacon Dan Lowery who worked hard to make all of this happen and Micky Henry, a parishioner from St. Mary, Crown Point who accompanied us as the interpreter.

       Everyone who contributes to the annual Haitian collection in our diocese should feel proud of the good this money does. We visited six different schools throughout the diocese. Most are very poorly equipped, with small classrooms holding 40 children sitting on benches. Very dedicated teachers serve heroically in these schools, using only a blackboard and a thin little textbook or two to educate the future generation of Haitian leaders. 

       From our perspective, it may all seem very inadequate and limited, but nevertheless these Catholic schools represent the only hope and opportunity these children have to build a better life and gain meaningful employment of any kind.

       Haiti is a sacred ground of light and shadow, a stunning beauty of tropical nature and gracious humanity, and yet holds the scars of a crushing poverty which breaks the heart. As pilgrims, we tread this holy place, which has been washed by the blood of martyrs and marked by the imperishable thirst of the human person for dignity, justice, peace and love. 

       We are truly blessed to have this special relationship with Fort Liberate, knowing that our parishes and people will be enriched through these friendships of faith, hope and love. Thanks to Bishop Melczek for beginning this spiritual journey years ago, a path which will bless every person who walks this way of solidarity and joy.


       + Donald J. Hying

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