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The Catholic Church in Haiti and all the Haitian people were surprised and happy when the good news came – that we were to get our first cardinal. The news came on Sunday, 12 January, the same day of the commemoration of the terrible earthquake that struck exactly four years earlier, killing hundreds of thousands of people.
The cardinal named by the Pope Francis was Bishop Chibly Langlois, the president of the Haitian bishops’ conference. It’s an historic event for the Church and for all the country. It is considered the demonstration of the Pope’s pastoral concern for the Church and the people of Haiti and a public recognition of the significant role played by the Catholic Church in the Haitian society.
It is important to remember that Haiti is the place where the Cross of Jesus Christ was placed for the first time in America, on 6 December, 1492 by Christopher Columbus and his European companions, and where the Church began first its pastoral activities in the New World. Haiti is one of the few countries where a Concordat is still regulating the relationship between Church and State – it was signed by the Vatican and the Government in 1860.
Many Haitian Catholics think that the nomination of a cardinal for the first time in the history of the Haitian Catholic Church will contribute to strengthen the Catholic faith in the country; they believe it will help the Church to grow and develop better its pastoral activities in favour of the Haitian people and especially the poor.
This people is one of the poorest in the Western hemisphere. The Catholic Church is now confronting the big responsibility of making a significant contribution to the reconstruction of a country destroyed by the earthquake.
The Catholic Church is active in Haiti in many fields: education, health, infrastructure and community development. More than 55 per cent of the population of 10 million are Catholics. A clergy of about 3,000 members (priests, Religious) are running more than 400 parishes, a great number of schools, hospitals and so on. So the presence of the Catholic faith is very important in the daily life of the Haitian people.
But four years later, most of the Catholic churches, schools and health-care centres in the affected areas have still not been rebuilt; many public offices and other signs of infrastructure and whole areas of cities such as Port-au-Prince, Leogâne, Petit-Goâve have not been rebuilt. More than 175,000 people are still living under fragile shelters.
We all hope that this nomination will have positive impact on the Church and on the daily life of the Haitian people. Over all, most people think it will make the Catholic Church in Haiti more aware of its pastoral responsibilities, strengthen the faith and bring a significant contribution to the reconstruction, to reinforce the democratic process and the fight for justice and against poverty.
Fr Kawas is a sociologist and the director of the Cerfas thinktank in Port-au-Prince