US-supported orphanage seeks normalcy three weeks after quake

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The 63 girls who live at the House of Girls of God Orphanage on a mountainside in Port-au-Prince still sleep outside, nearly three weeks after the Jan. 12 earthquake.

Paula Thybulle, director and founder, House of Girls of God Orphanage. (CNS/Bob Roller)

Paula Thybulle, the orphanage’s director and founder, welcomed a Catholic News Service reporter and photographer to the orphanage today, saying it’s been a difficult job keeping the girls calm and getting them back into a regular routine.

“Until now they are traumatized,” Thybulle said.

The orphanage sustained enough damage during the magnitude 7 temblor to close several classrooms and the dormitories.

The orphanage is one of the several programs in Haiti supported by the Haitian Ministries of the Diocese of Norwich, Conn. Emily Smack, executive director, said the diocese provides $70,000 annually to the orphanage and the other programs.

Smack, Lyn Tolson, assistant director, and Dr. Tom Gorin, a pediatrician, are in Port-au-Prince for five days to visit the projects the Haitian Ministries program supports. They wanted to know what they could do in the U.S. to help the programs continue and return to regular operation.

Emily Smack, executive director of Haitian Ministries in the Diocese of Norwich, Conn., talks with children at the orphanage. (CNS/Bob Roller)

The orphanage in Port-au-Prince’s Village Lamothe  neighborhood is in a holding pattern. While it gets electric power from a generator and the staff has been able to cook meals for the girls, classes are suspended because the teachers have not returned from caring for their families in the aftermath of the disaster.

Thybulle, 70, said she worries about the orphanage’s future. She would like to find another location for the girls, but the disarray around the Haitian capital will make that a difficult task. Even if the right place is available, it will take money to rebuild what already exists.

Thybulle, who started the orphanage in 1987 after holding jobs in the Haitian government and in the United States, said the project is what’s driven her for more than 22 years. She said she’s not ready to retire because if she did “I would die.”

For now Thybulle is working as hard as she can to hold the orphanage together. But she seemed tired after nearly three weeks of nonstop work.

“I don’t want to turn my back on the girls,” she said. “I love them a lot.”

Pope sneaks out of Vatican to visit exhibit

Pope Benedict visits a Rome exhibit on European patron saints. (CNS/Osservatore Romano)

VATICAN CITY — Twenty-five years ago, it wasn’t unusual for Pope John Paul II to sneak out of the Vatican in the winter to go skiing.

Pope Benedict XVI left the Vatican unannounced last evening to visit an art exhibit, according to reports today from Vatican Radio and L’Osservatore Romano.

Yesterday marked the end of the four-month run of the exhibit, “The Power and the Grace: The Patron Saints of Europe,” at Rome’s Palazzo Venezia Museum, and Pope Benedict was among the last of the more than 100,000 people to visit the show.

The Vatican newspaper said the pope arrived at the museum about 6:30 p.m. with his two private secretaries and the four laywomen who care for the private papal household. The women are members of Communion and Liberation’s Memores Domini association.

While the public was held at bay for 35 minutes, the pope and his entourage were shown the more than 100 works on display by the curator of the exhibit, the Italian ambassador to the Vatican and an undersecretary of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government.

For the last month of the exhibit, the Louvre in Paris loaned the museum Leonardo DaVinci’s painting of St. John the Baptist. Other works on display included Jan van Eyck’s painting of St. Francis of Assisi with the stigmata, Caravaggio’s St. John the Baptist, and El Greco’s painting of St. Louis IX of France.