January 22, 2010

Parishes look to bolster mission efforts in Haiti

By Sean Gallagher

In the wake of the massive Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti, parishes across the archdiocese that have done mission work there made initial plans to assist in the relief work in the impoverished island nation.

The Archdiocese of Indianapolis as a whole is providing aid through second collections taken up in every parish on the weekends of Jan. 16-17 and Jan. 23-24. The money donated in these collections, taken up at the request of Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein, will be given to Catholic Relief Services, which is coordinating support from Church agencies around the world. (Learn how to donate to Catholic Relief Services now)

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Jeffersonville, Our Lady of the Greenwood Parish in Greenwood, St. Ambrose Parish in Seymour, St. Bartholomew Parish in Columbus and St. Malachy Parish in Brownsburg all have sister parishes in the northern part of Haiti that seem to have come out of the earthquake relatively unscathed.

St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Indianapolis, however, has a longstanding relationship with St. Jean Marie Parish in Belle Riviere, high in the mountains some 65 miles southwest of the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, an area near the epicenter of the earthquake.

Joseph Zelenka, who coordinates St. Thomas’ mission work in Haiti, told The Criterion on Jan. 18 that there was no loss of life and only moderate property damage in Belle Riviere.

He said, however, that travel there was difficult even in good conditions because of poor roads. Now he expects travel to Belle Riviere to be impossible.

Nevertheless, Zelenka still expects a Feb. 12-20 medical mission trip sponsored by his parish to take place. The plan now is to remain in Port-au-Prince.

“We’re going to try to coordinate and provide those medical services that are so much needed by those who are suffering in Port-au-Prince,” Zelenka said.

Zelenka has made approximately 50 mission trips to Haiti in the past 20 years. Because of that experience, this current tragedy did not extinguish his hope for the people there.

“In all my trips to Haiti, no matter whether there are storms or no storms, they have food or no food, water or no water, their constant cry is, ‘Bondye Bon,’ ‘God is good,’ ” Zelenka said. “It makes my faith seem so trivial. They who have nothing live on hope, live on faith, live on courage.”

Father Rick Nagel, chaplain of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), has made three mission trips to Haiti in the past three years, including one while still a seminarian.

He hopes to take a group of IUPUI students on a mission trip to Haiti in March.

Although his mission work has been focused in northern Haiti, he is concerned that the people in that region will still feel the effects of the earthquake in a powerful, if indirect, way due to severe increases in the costs of basic necessities that will be difficult to transport out of Port-au-Prince to the rest of the country.

“That’s what I think is going to happen in this case,” Father Nagel said. “The impact is obviously on the poor people in Port-au-Prince. But the long-term impact in the next couple of years and probably pretty immediately too will be on the rest of the country, really.

“Port-au-Prince is the gateway to the whole country.”

That’s why Paul Zielinski, a member of St. Malachy Parish in Brownsburg who helps coordinate his parish’s mission work at St. Marguerite Parish in Port Margot, Haiti, said that this is a time when his parish will need to re-evaluate their mission priorities in Haiti.

“You want to do everything you can to help them,” Zielinski said. “Now there’s some confusion as to how this changes what we’ve been working on.”

However, one priority for Zielinski has remained unchanged—prayer.

“We always pray for our friends in Haiti,” Zielinski said. “But it’s even more intense now because of the great need.”

(Monetary donations can be sent directly to the archdiocesan Mission Office, P.O. Box 1410, Indianapolis, IN 46206. Checks should be made payable to the Archdiocese of Indianapolis with “Haiti Relief Fund” on the memo line of the check.)

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