Earthquake-damaged community in Haiti wants its own neighborhood parish

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — For a quiet neighborhood in the sprawling Delmas community of the Haitian capital, building a Catholic parish has become a top priority.

People pray during Mass on Ash Wednesday at a chapel adjacent to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption in Port-au-Prince. (CNS/Bob Roller)

Born out of last year’s earthquake, the idea is slowly gaining ground in the neighborhood known as Delmas 33. About 150 worshipers joined Msgr. Pierre Andrew Pierre for Mass yesterday and enthusiastically prayed and sang during the two-hour liturgy.

Calling their faith community St. Francis of Delmas, the members say the nearest parishes are so far away that walking takes too long. Now they gather weekly outside of a private home under a tarp to worship. The altar is under a tent. Both are put up and removed by members each week.

Rene Syriacque, one of the parish organizers, said the group began gathering for Mass five days after the quake and have been together ever since. Of course, it helps that Msgr. Pierre, who is president of the University of Notre Dame of Haiti, now lives in the neighborhood.

Msgr. Pierre, 57, lives with his parents in Delmas 33. He took up residence with them after his home in the rectory of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption was destroyed in the quake. He was just steps away from Archbishop Serge Miot when the earthquake hit. The archbishop was violently pitched over a railing and died.

“I came here as a refugee,” Msgr. Pierre said, recalling how he was pulled aside by a friend who wanted to wish him new year’s greetings seconds before the rumbling started. Otherwise he would have been on the porch as well.

It took Msgr. Pierre 45 minutes to free himself from the rubble. He brought several injured people to the neighborhood, knowing they could be treated at Matthew 25 House, a house of hospitality opened by the Parish Twinning Program of the Americas based in Nashville, Tenn.

Msgr. Pierre agreed to celebrate Mass for the area’s residents. He said was pleased to see they are working to establish their own parish.

Meanwhile, Syriacque is leading the fundraising effort for a church. She was busy selling raffle tickets after Mass yesterday. A second collection is also taken at the Masses for the church. The collection was started in November, but Syriacque was unsure how much had been collected through yesterday.

She said a committee has identified four sites on which to build the church. Now they just have to come up with enough money. But at least Mass is now close to home.

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