Sacred Heart among Diocese of Knoxville congregations continuing aid to strife-stricken country

By Bill Brewer

Despite the nearly paralyzing political and social turmoil taking place in Haiti, important work is continuing to take place through the hands of faith-based groups and their members within the Caribbean country and via U.S. churches like the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.

The cathedral parish’s Haiti Outreach Program is actively supporting its ministry to the impoverished country amid tumultuous recent events.

In fact, cathedral rector Father David Boettner was joined by Haiti Outreach Program leaders Matt Webster and Dr. Dean Mire on Aug. 5 in a meeting in Miami with Bishop Désinord Jean of the Haitian Diocese of Hinche and Father Michelet Lamarre, pastor of St. Michel Parish in Boucan-Carré, Haiti, to map out strategy on the best way to keep resources flowing to Boucan-Carré and its rural communities like Bouly amid the political and civil strife.

Mr. Webster explained that members of Sacred Heart’s Haiti Outreach Program, with few exceptions, have not traveled to Haiti for three to four years because of safety and security risks.

And the United States currently has placed restrictions on travel to Haiti. According to the U.S. State Department, residents are advised to not travel to Haiti at this time because of crime, kidnapping, civil unrest, and COVID-19.

But that doesn’t halt the need, which continues unabated. And critical work is ongoing to help the Haitian people in the interior communities of Boucan-Carré and the even more remote Bouly thanks to generous donors to programs like the Haiti Outreach Program, according to Mr. Webster.

“It’s really frustrating. We need to be communicating with our sisters and brothers in Haiti on a more personal level than just on WhatsApp,” Mr. Webster said.

Because of that lack of detailed communication, the meeting in Miami was scheduled.

“We want to have a crystal-clear line of sight of what the (strategic) plan is. We went to Miami to meet with Father Lamarre, the Boucan-Carré priest, and the bishop of the Diocese of Hinche to find out what is the future of capital investment in Haiti. What are the priorities? There is interest in building a new church in Boucan-Carré to replace an aging one,” Mr. Webster said, adding that the Haiti Outreach Program already has helped fund and build a rectory and schools for St. Michel Parish.

“What is most important? Is it a new church? Is it security? Is it technology? Is it a convent for the sisters there? This was a strategy meeting in which we wanted to get aligned on priorities,” Mr. Webster added. “With the Bishop of Hinche and his pastoral plan, with the priest and his parish, with the Sisters and their school, and with the doctor and his clinic, we can determine the needs.”

Donors to the Haiti Outreach Program and similar Haiti mission programs at diocesan parishes like Immaculate Conception, St. Mary in Johnson City, St. Augustine, and St. Francis of Assisi in Fairfield Glade fund vital Haitian operations such as two Catholic schools in Boucan-Carré, parish needs, and a medical clinic in Bouly, which has a Haitian physician and medical staff to serve the rural people of the area.

“The fundamental driver here is our donors. They give very generously and we want them to know where their money is going and how it is used,” Mr. Webster noted, pointing out that the depositing of wire funds is very secure, as is the withdrawal process in Haiti.

“It’s for food. It’s for clothing. It’s for water. Their situation is dire. This is a daily ‘wake up and am I going to survive today’ situation for them. Our donations help pay for teachers to educate Haitian students, books, tuition, uniforms, and food for these young students, a clinic, clinic staff, and medical supplies for these remote people,” Mr. Webster continued.

He estimated that over the 20-year history of Sacred Heart’s Haiti Outreach Program, about $5 million has been raised by donors.

“What has been achieved there has been spectacular. We’ve changed the local economy in Boucan-Carré. The Haiti effort has made it a better place by funding a bridge over the river, two schools, a church and rectory, and a medical clinic in Bouly. It’s made an economic difference there,” Mr. Webster said.

He acknowledged that it may be a while before Sacred Heart missionaries can return to Haiti, but the long-term plan is to get back there.

“The need is as urgent now as it has ever been because of the political climate. We have high expectations that we are all aligned, us and Haiti working together on behalf of our dedicated donors,” he concluded.

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