More than 2,000 killed in disaster as Catholic Church responds with emergency aid
By ACI Prensa and Catholic News Service
Cardinal Chibly Langlois, bishop of Les Cayes in Haiti and president of Haiti’s Bishops’ Conference, was injured while a Catholic priest died early in the morning of Aug. 14 after a 7.2 intensity earthquake rocked Haiti.
Speaking to ACI Prensa, Catholic News Agency’s Spanish language news agency, Akim Kikonda, director for Catholic Relief Services in Haiti, said Cardinal Langlois “is hurt, but his life is not in danger.”
Cardinal Langlois, 62, was created the first Haitian cardinal by Pope Francis on Feb. 22, 2014.
“CRS has spoken with the priestly residence in Les Cayes, and we have reports that the house has been severely damaged. Unfortunately, we were informed of three fatalities, one priest and two employees,” Mr. Kikonda said.
Mr. Kikonda also reported to ACI Prensa that “all of CRS personnel are safe and sound, but unfortunately one of our employees’ wife died, and his baby is gravely injured.”
The earthquake happened at 8:30 a.m. local time, affecting all of the country, but especially the region of Les Cayes, in the southwestern region of Haiti.
Mr. Kikonda also said that the local public hospital was overwhelmed by the number of emergencies and was forced to turn away many of the injured.
On the heels of the earthquake, a tropical storm battered the affected area, adding to the destruction.
The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops asked bishops across the country to take up a voluntary collection to help Haiti recover from the pair of natural disasters.
Saying that Haitians are likely to experience continuing hardships from the earthquake and tropical storm that swept through the ravaged southwestern part of the country days later, Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles made the request in a letter to bishops.
More than 2,000 people died, more than 12,000 were injured, and hundreds more were missing. Money collected will be funneled to the Bishops Emergency Disaster Fund and will be used to support the pastoral and reconstruction needs of the Haitian Catholic Church as well as efforts of Catholic Relief Services and possibly Catholic Charities USA. The USCCB said in a news release Aug. 20 that if the money collected cannot be distributed in Haiti, funding will be used for other emergency relief where it is needed most as determined by the bishops’ Committee on National Collections.
Pope Francis is sending nearly a quarter of a million dollars to help the Haitian people who are struggling in the quake’s aftermath and the global pandemic. The Vatican’s Dicastery for Integral Human Development said in a communique released Aug. 24 that the pope had decided to send “an initial contribution” of $235,000 (200,000 euros) to assist the earthquake victims during this “emergency phase.”
In addition to at least 2,200 people who died and the more than 12,000 others who were injured, nearly 53,000 houses were destroyed, according to local authorities.
The papal donation is meant to be “an immediate expression” of Pope Francis’ “feeling of spiritual closeness and paternal encouragement” for the people there. The money will be distributed, in collaboration with the Vatican’s nunciature in Haiti, to those dioceses most affected by the disaster, the dicastery said. It will add to the aid being sent throughout the Catholic Church thanks to efforts led by bishops’ conferences and numerous charitable organizations.
In October 2019, Cardinal Langlois visited the Diocese of Knoxville and met with Bishop Richard F. Stika and Cardinal Justin Rigali.
Cardinal Langlois also met with Father David Boettner, rector of the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, and members of Sacred Heart Cathedral’s Haiti outreach ministry to show his and his country’s appreciation.
Cardinal Langlois celebrated Mass for Sacred Heart Cathedral School students and delivered the keynote address at a banquet marking the 20th anniversary of Sacred Heart’s Haiti ministry.
Cardinal Langlois wanted to personally thank the Sacred Heart community for its two-decade support of Haiti. He encouraged the community to continue supporting the small Caribbean nation beset by political and economic strife. The cardinal, who has studied in Rome and has traveled around the world representing Haiti and its needs, is president of the Haitian bishops conference.
Cardinal Langlois was named bishop of Les Cayes in 2011 before Pope Francis elevated him to the College of Cardinals.
Scores of diocesan volunteers have donated their time, talents, and money to assist the Haitian people over the past 20 years, routinely visiting the rural, poverty-stricken area. However, political and social unrest has prevented Sacred Heart mission trips to Haiti for more than three years.
In welcoming Cardinal Langlois to the Diocese of Knoxville, Bishop Stika remarked how the Haiti ministry at the cathedral has for the past 20 years served the people of Boucan-Carré, a town outside of the capital city of Port-au-Prince that parishioners early in the ministry identified as the area they wanted to assist.
The bishop noted how the ministry has helped in the construction of school and clinic facilities for Boucan-Carré as well as aid for the people of the area. “He’s a historic figure. He’s the very first cardinal from Haiti. So it’s a historic visit. Haiti is the poorest country in the world,” said Bishop Stika, who concelebrated with Cardinal Rigali at the Sacred Heart School Mass.
Bishop Stika was impressed at how engaging Cardinal Langlois was with the students.
He described the cardinal as very serene and very much aware of the Church around the world, especially in his native country, and Haiti’s need for any assistance other countries can give.
Bishop Stika said Cardinal Langlois is very appreciative of the support Haiti has received from sources such as the Sacred Heart Haiti outreach ministry.
“For many there, it is the difference in life and death. Haiti has been so damaged by earthquakes, hurricanes; the government is unstable,” Bishop Stika said at the time. “As a side issue, he (Cardinal Langlois) was unable to go back right away because it was dangerous for him to get to his home diocese. He postponed his return for a few days. The government is really unstable.”
Bishop Stika explained that Cardinal Langlois flew to Tennessee from Rome and visited with two Haitian priests in the Diocese of Nashville. They then drove over to Knoxville, marking Cardinal Langlois’ first visit to the Diocese of Knoxville.
The bishop also pointed out that other parishes, like Immaculate Conception, have Haiti ministries and that Sacred Heart partners with St. Kateri Tekakwitha Parish in Tabb, Va., and St. Anselm Parish in St. Louis in assisting the people of Boucan-Carré. Haiti outreach leaders at Sacred Heart have led Knoxville Catholic High School students on mission trips to Boucan-Carré.
Cardinal Langlois told Cardinal Rigali he was grateful for the time Cardinal Rigali has spent in Haiti. Cardinal Langlois asked for continued prayers for Haiti so that economic and political conditions there will improve as he praised the ongoing relationship between the parishioners of Sacred Heart and the people of Haiti.