Sacred Heart ministry supporting impoverished country hears from award-winning leader
By Gabrielle Nolan
The Haiti Outreach Program of the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus held its annual banquet, Hands Across the Sea: Supporting Haiti, on Sept. 22 at Cathedral Hall.
More than 80 attendees enjoyed a meal, live music, and a selection of Haitian metal artwork for sale.
Father David Boettner, rector of the cathedral, gave the opening welcome.
“Thank you all for coming this evening,” Father Boettner said. “We’re thrilled to be able to gather together. It’s always a joy to see friends and meet new friends. We hope this evening you have the opportunity to do both. … We have some wonderful guests with us this evening, some great opportunities to learn more about our mission with our brothers and sisters in Haiti. First, we just want to thank God for this evening, and for the food, and especially for all those volunteers who have helped to put this great feast together.”
Frank Murphy was the master of ceremonies, and Matt Webster, president of the Haiti Outreach Program, provided program highlights and updates.
Additionally, the crowd watched a video message from Bishop Desinord Jean of the Diocese of Hinche, Haiti. Drew Peloubet, the U.S. liaison to Bishop Jean, gave remarks and reflections after the video.
‘You are doing God’s work’
The keynote speaker for the evening was Loune Viaud, a native Haitian who won the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award in 2002 for her work to provide Haiti with health care through Zanmi Lasante, the sister organization of the nonprofit Partners In Health.
Additionally, Ms. Viaud is the first female Haitian civilian to address the United Nations Security Council when she spoke about equitable health care for women and girls.
“Good evening, friends. I bring you warm greetings from Haiti,” Ms. Viaud began. “I would like to express my thanks to you all for honoring my friend and mentor Dr. (Paul) Farmer last year. And if I’m here today, it is in part because of Paul and a chance encounter almost 40 years ago.”
Dr. Farmer, a former professor at Harvard Medical School and doctor in the field of global health, was the co-founder of Partners In Health and assisted Sacred Heart’s ministry in Haiti. He died in Rwanda in February 2022.
Ms. Viaud has worked for Partners In Health for 37 years, and for most of that time was the executive director of Zanmi Lasante. Since fall 2021, Ms. Viaud has represented Partners In Health as the chief gender and social equity officer.
“We at PIH, we’re always discussing partnership and ways to better collaborate with other organizations. We believe partnership is the only way we move forward if we are going to survive in this line of work,” she said. “The opportunity to work with the late Dr. Paul Farmer from 1998 until the evening before his passing in February 2022 was the best partnership I have ever had. Through our journey we experienced many wonderful advancements and miracles, as well as surviving many disasters, crises, and losing many good friends along the way. Over the last three decades of our friendship, Paul and I built a team of what is now about almost 7,000 colleagues in Haiti.”
“Everything is possible,” Ms. Viaud continued. “And while I know Haiti has many tragedies and struggles with social, political, and economic challenges, Haiti has become the global model of care for all of Partners In Health around the world and for many other organizations.”
Ms. Viaud said that the parish of St. Michel in Boucan-Carré, Haiti, and the surrounding communities are “better because of a group of people from Knoxville who hold Haiti close to their hearts.”
“Today, thousands of patients have access to a better life because of you, because of your support and your unconditional love,” she said. “So many Haitians have jobs today and are able to care for their families because you believe in their education. Education has opened closed doors for them because of your pragmatic solidarity. At St. Michel (school), you are transforming lives. The community of Bouly is healthier since 2015 because of your commitment. … You proved without any doubt that holistic health care could be available to anyone, anywhere. You have proven what was once impossible to achieve is possible for the neediest communities, and you are doing so by making it preferential for the poor in health care, delivering quality care to all and education to the people in Boucan-Carré.”
Ms. Viaud said that fulfilling this mission “has never been and will never be easy, especially in parts of the world where inequity and injustice are rampant, such as Haiti.”
She commented that the communities they serve in Haiti face violence, illness, malnutrition, and gangs.
“No one is safe,” she said. “The best and brightest of our citizens are fleeing the country in unprecedented numbers.”
However, amidst the trials, those supporting Haiti are working toward a process that “values individuals and prioritizes their rights to health, education, water, sanitation, work, gender equity, social security, personal security, and justice,” Ms. Viaud said.
“Any intervention in Haiti needs to include economic, social, and cultural rights with a focus on the right to work of youth and social security,” she continued. “Haiti needs loyal friends. Haiti needs partnership and cooperation. Haiti needs social justice. Our approach to Partners In Health is to challenge and advocate for global health. We believe one thing: everyone on the planet has the right to high-quality, comprehensive health care. We do our best to address urgent medical and material needs. We achieve this by building health systems able to prevent serious illness. Our work in Haiti … continues despite our environment.”
Ms. Viaud noted that Partners In Health is the primary health-care provider to more than 1 million people.
“While our services are far from perfect, we continue to fight for all Haitians one at a time,” she said. “With partners, such as you here in Knoxville, Haiti Outreach Program … we share our ambition of beliefs of one global health equity. The voices we choose to amplify, the lesson we take to heart, the actions we perform, and the policies for which we advocate directly have a direct impact on the outcomes of our collective efforts to consider basic social goods.”
Ms. Viaud said the situation in Haiti must not discourage the efforts being made, but rather supporters can continue to challenge themselves.
“We must continue our solidarity work with the people who need it most, the people of Bouly. Ultimately, we must continue to dare to imagine the better, more equitable future we can build together,” she said. “We might not be able to go physically now, but you can still be involved in Haiti. Paul Farmer called it an open-ended accompaniment rather than a formal contractual obligation. Advancing health equity in settings of poverty such as Bouly and Boucan-Carré is what matters the most. When someone visits Bouly for the first time, they are visiting the middle of nowhere. But we must flip this mentality. We are visiting the center of the universe for the people in Bouly. We can make a commitment to break the cycle of systemic poverty by decolonizing minds and hearts to focus on equity, justice, and long-term partnership and accompaniment. We know what can be done, so we can no longer accept what cannot be done as an excuse. Optimism and action are the only options, and we have seen what good can result from hope, faith, and love.”
Ms. Viaud concluded her speech by thanking the Knoxville community.
“Back here in Knoxville, tonight, we are here to reflect and renew our dedication to the people of Bouly in Haiti,” she said. “People yet to have access to quality health care and education, yet to have access to dignified employment, yet to have access to justice. Here, too, in the U.S., I know that we are facing similar challenges, similar issues. It is not a time to give up. We must keep going. I hope you will continue to join us on this journey because so many lives depend on it. We are grateful to you here tonight, we are grateful to the people of Knoxville, we are grateful to this community, we are grateful to Haiti Outreach Program, and thank you for inviting me… Please keep Haiti in your prayers. Let us continue to embrace our core values. Thank you for being part of our community of doers and accompaniment. Be generous to Haiti Outreach Program. You are doing God’s work. Thank you so much.”
The Haiti Outreach Program
Sacred Heart Parish has been connected to St. Michel Parish in Boucan-Carré since 1999 through the Haiti Outreach Program.
“Well, first and foremost, this began as an evangelistic mission, and, again, we want to continue to spread the word of God in all parts of the world. … And once that starts, then the other things begin to unfold, the education of children, Catholic education, and they go to church and they learn of religion, so it becomes an extension of that activity,” Mr. Webster said.
St. Michel has approximately 58,000 residents. Through the volunteers, donations, and various partnerships, the Haiti Outreach Program aims to provide much-needed services to those in the mountainous region that lies 60 miles from Port-au-Prince.
The Haiti Outreach Program focuses on the mind (education), body (health care), and spirit (faith).
Annual student support includes funding for a primary and secondary school that impacts over 900 students. Donations cover tuition and fees, books, uniforms, teacher salaries, and one small meal per day for the primary students.
Health-care support includes medical staff, medicine, and nutritional supplies that assist more than 130 patients per month. Donations cover salaries for doctors and nurses, medicine and medical supplies, a prenatal nutrition program, and infant nutrition supplements.
Support for St. Michel Parish not only includes the church, but also nine outlying chapels. Donations cover the operations budget, staff salaries, sacristan training, and rectory maintenance.
“Hopefully the rest of our mission and volunteers will one day get a chance to go safely and experience the work we’re doing,” Mr. Webster said.
For information and to donate, visit haitioutreachprogram.com.