Haiti is 800 miles off the coast of southeastern Florida. It is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. Poverty there overwhelms the senses and violates our understanding of human dignity. Mother Teresa's reflections on ministry with the poor brought her to the realization that material wealth often brings a spiritual poverty. Through twinning with Haiti, Americans can have what she called "a class encounter, in which the rich save the poor and the poor save the rich." A personal connection with Haiti allows Americans and Haitians to recognize the inherent need that impoverished countries and wealthy countries have for each other. We can work toward wholeness as we give and receive the gifts that each has to offer the other.
At the heart of the Diocese of Richmond's Haiti Ministry lies its twinning program. Over 60 parishes in the Diocese of Richmond are twinned with a parish or organization in Haiti. The twinning program is based on relationship and solidarity; it is understood that each partner has gifts to share with the other and that we stand with each other as we journey forward in faith.
In addition to the twinning relationships several diocesan boards, committees and special projects address specific needs in Haiti. Education, healthcare, sustainable development, and children are among those issues that are addressed in this way.
The Diocesan Haiti Commission is the oversight and advisory body which helps guide the direction of the ministry and provides the support necessary for those who are engaged in work with Haiti.
Diagram of the Haiti Ministry Structure
The Haiti Ministry and Commission of the Diocese of Richmond had its beginnings with a group of 10 people who met with Bishop Walter F. Sullivan on July 25, 1983 to strategize about a possible outreach of the Diocese to the people of Haiti. The 10 were individuals who had participated in retreats to Haiti sponsored by the National Center for Young Adult Ministry, North Andover, Massachusetts. Bishop Sullivan made his first visit to Haiti in June of 1984 where he met with the Bishop of the Diocese of Hinche, Haiti.
Six of the 10 began work on a pastoral plan, which was completed in draft form on September 3, 1984. The draft was approved by the Diocesan Pastoral Council, the Diocesan Presbyteral Council, and the bishop. The original group had its first meeting on December 18, 1984, at which time they proposed that two groups be established for the implementation of the pastoral plan: (1) a Task Force on Haitian Ministry to focus on parish outreach, migrant and refugee ministry, and diocesan action; (2) a Haiti Outreach Committee to focus on a retreat program and volunteerism.
The Task Force met first on January 30, 1985 and began a program of study and action. They also worked on a Constitution, and Bishop Sullivan created a Diocesan Commission on June 26, 1985, combining the Task Force and the Outreach Committees. The Constitution was approved July 25, 1985.
The Richmond Diocesan Haiti ministry flourished under the leadership of Bishop Sullivan, diocesan staff and the Haitian Ministry Commission. Over the past 20 years the Diocesan Haiti Ministry developed many facets of this relationship with Haiti. The major emphasis and foundation of the Haitian ministry is the twinning program. In 2007 there were 61 parishes, schools, etc., in the Diocese of Richmond twined with a parish, organization or group in Haiti. Primarily the twinning relationships are located in the Diocese of Hinche but there are also twinning relationships in other parts of Haiti; on the Island of La Gonave, Pignon, Cap-Haitien, Port-au-Prince and Jacmel. The twinning program is based on relationship and solidarity. It is understood that each partner has gifts to share with the other and that we stand with each other as we journey forward in faith. The Haiti Solidarity Twinning Committee was formed as a committee of the Commission to focus on the twinning aspect of the ministry.
Other areas of ministry have evolved over the years including three foundations governed by their own Boards of Directors. The Haitian Education Fund fosters a relationship between the Diocese of Richmond Education Board and the Diocese of Hinche Education Office. The Haitian Health Care Foundation, Inc. (formerly the Klinik Lenkànasyon Foundation) serves as a resource and coordinating vehicle for twinned parishes involved in health care. The Maison Fortuné Orphanage Foundation, Inc. supports Maison Fortuné Orphanage in Hinche.
Additionally, there is a partnership with the Xaverian Brothers to support their volunteer program in Haiti. And finally there are three funds held by the Diocese of Richmond. One fund supports the work of Fonkoze and their micro credit and literacy programs. The second fund supports a school and community project in Matabonite, Haiti. And finally, there is a fund to help support the formation of priests attending the seminary in Haiti.
In 2003 the Diocese saw the retirement of Bishop Sullivan and in May of 2004 the installation of Bishop DiLorenzo as Bishop of Richmond. The structure of the Haiti ministry also underwent transition. In 2004 the diocese decided to combined the responsibilities of the three part time staff people, Br. Cosmas Rubencamp, Adele DellaValle-Rauth and Dr. Kathleen Kenney, and hire one person to staff the Haiti Ministry. This change took place in March of 2005.
With a the transition of having a new full time staff person, and given the many facets of the ministry and the number of people involved in the ministry, it was decided that a strategic planning retreat would be necessary as a move into the future. Early in the fall of 2005, 42 people involved in the Richmond diocesan Haiti ministry gathered to undergo a strategic planning process. The group celebrated the over 20 years of partnership and spiritual growth that the ministry has provided and the strong visionary leadership which brought the ministry to its present state. The strategic planning retreat participants looked to the future and how it could modify the organizational structure to meet its goals. The functions of the Haitian Commission and Haiti Solidarity Twinning Committee are now integrated into one entity to provide the necessary coordinated leadership for the diocesan Haiti ministries.
The diocesan Haiti ministry stands at an exciting threshold full of possibilities. Built upon a solid and faith-filled past, the future is pregnant with limitless possibilities. The re-organized Haiti Commission had its start-up date on November 4, 2006 and now meets quarterly. All are invited to participate in the journey.