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.

Vatican invites people to *Like* John Paul II

VATICAN CITY — Vatican Radio and the Vatican Television Center are putting snippets from their vast audio and film archives of Pope John Paul II’s pontificate online on YouTube and Facebook.

The initiative, launched today, is meant as a run-up to the late pope’s beatification May 1.

The new YouTube page is here and features short clips of Pope John Paul, starting with his election in 1979.

Each video will be categorized by year, theme or the language the pope was speaking at the particular event. Three or four new videos will be added each day.

The same videos will also be uploaded to the Vatican’s general YouTube channel and then also linked to a new Facebook page dedicated to Pope John Paul’s beatification.

Those who like JP2 should be aware that Facebook is awash with unofficial John Paul II (and Pope Benedict) fan pages and spoofs. The page being run by Vatican Radio and the Vatican Television Center is at

Here’s where you can donate to Pacific tsunami emergency

Catholic charitable agencies are accepting donations for Japan and other countries affected by the magnitude 8.9 earthquake and tsunamis that followed.

Catholics can send donations to Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ international relief and development agency, or to Caritas, the church’s charitable arm.

In Britain, Catholics may donate to CAFOD, which has a Pacific tsunami relief fund.

Excerpts from ‘Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week’

VATICAN CITY — Here are some highlights from Pope Benedict XVI’s new book, “Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week — From the Entrance Into Jerusalem to the Resurrection,” published today.

In his foreword, the pope explains the purpose of his project:

In the foreword to Part One, I stated that my concern was to present “the figure and the message of Jesus”. Perhaps it would have been good to assign these two words — figure and message — as a subtitle to the book, in order to clarify its underlying intention. Exaggerating a little, one could say that I set out to discover the real Jesus, on the basis of whom something like a “Christology from below” would then become possible. The quest for the “historical Jesus”, as conducted in mainstream critical exegesis in accordance with its hermeneutical presuppositions, lacks sufficient content to exert any significant historical impact. It is focused too much on the past for it to make possible a personal relationship with Jesus…. I have attempted to develop a way of observing and listening to the Jesus of the Gospels that can indeed lead to personal encounter and that, through collective listening with Jesus’ disciples across the ages, can indeed attain sure knowledge of the real historical figure of Jesus.

The pope looks at religiously motivated violence and says Jesus brought something new and different:

There has been a noticeable reduction in the wave of theologies of revolution that attempt to justify violence as a means of building a better world — the “kingdom” — by interpreting Jesus as a “Zealot”. The cruel consequences of religiously motivated violence are only too evident to us all. Violence does not build up the kingdom of God, the kingdom of humanity. On the contrary, it is a favorite instrument of the Antichrist, however idealistic its religious motivation may be. It serves, not humanity, but inhumanity.

But what about Jesus? Was he a Zealot? Was the cleansing of the Temple a summons to political revolution? Jesus’ whole ministry and his message — from the temptations in the desert, his baptism in the Jordan, the Sermon on the Mount, right up to the parable of the Last  Judgment (Mt 25) and his response to Peter’s confession — point in a radically different direction, as we saw in Part One of this book.

No; violent revolution, killing others in God’s name, was not his way. His “zeal” for the kingdom of God took quite a different form.

He explores the idea of “eternal life” offered by Jesus:

“Eternal life” is not — as the modern reader might immediately assume — life after death, in contrast to this present life, which is transient and not eternal. “Eternal life” is life itself, real life, which can also be lived in the present age and is no longer challenged by physical death. This is the point: to seize “life” here and now, real life that can no longer be destroyed by anything or anyone.

The pope emphasizes the importance of the historical foundation of the events recounted in Scripture, but notes the limits of the historical method:

The New Testament message is not simply an idea; essential to it is the fact that these events actually occurred in the history of this world: biblical faith does not recount stories as symbols of meta-historical truths; rather, it bases itself upon history that unfolded upon this earth (cf. Part One, p. xv). If Jesus did not give his disciples bread and wine as his body and blood, then the Church’s Eucharistic celebration is empty — a pious fiction and not a reality at the foundation of communion with God and among men.

This naturally raises once more the question of possible and appropriate forms of historical verification. We must be clear about the fact that historical research can at most establish high probability but never final and absolute certainty over every detail. If the certainty of faith were dependent upon scientific-historical verification alone, it would always remain open to revision.

Jesus was not a political agitator, the pope says:

Through the message that he proclaimed, Jesus had actually achieved a separation of the religious from the political, thereby changing the world: this is what truly marks the essence of his new path….

In his teaching and in his whole ministry, Jesus had inaugurated a nonpolitical Messianic kingdom and had begun to detach these two hitherto inseparable realities from one another, as we said earlier. But this separation — essential to Jesus’ message — of politics from faith, of God’s people from politics, was ultimately possible only through the Cross. Only through the total loss of all external power, through the radical stripping away that led to the Cross, could this new world come into being. Only through faith in the Crucified One, in him who was robbed of all worldly power and thereby exalted, does the new community arise, the new manner of God’s dominion in the world

He says it is wrong to blame the Jewish people for Jesus’ death:

Now we must ask: Who exactly were Jesus’ accusers? Who insisted that he be condemned to death? We must take note of the different answers that the Gospels give to this question. According to John it was simply “the Jews”. But John’s use of this expression does not in any way indicate — as the modern reader might suppose — the people of Israel in general, even less is it “racist” in character. After all, John himself was ethnically a Jew, as were Jesus and all his followers. The entire early Christian community was made up of Jews. In John’s Gospel this word has a precise and clearly defined meaning: he is referring to the Temple aristocracy.

He says the truth of the Resurrection is crucial for the faith:

The Christian faith stands or falls with the truth of the testimony that Christ is risen from the dead.

If this were taken away, it would still be possible to piece together from the Christian tradition a series of interesting ideas about God and men, about man’s being and his obligations, a kind of religious world view: but the Christian faith itself would be dead. Jesus would be a failed religious leader, who despite his failure remains great and can cause us to reflect. But he would then remain purely human, and his authority would extend only so far as his message is of interest to us. He would no longer be a criterion; the only criterion left would be our own judgment in selecting from his heritage what strikes us as helpful. In other words, we would be alone. Our own judgment would be the highest instance.

Only if Jesus is risen has anything really new occurred that changes the world and the situation of mankind. Then he becomes the criterion on which we can rely. For then God has truly revealed himself.

The Resurrection, he says, does not contradict science but goes beyond science:

Naturally there can be no contradiction of clear scientific data. The Resurrection accounts certainly speak of something outside our world of experience. They speak of something new, something unprecedented — a new dimension of reality that is revealed. What already exists is not called into question. Rather we are told that there is a further dimension, beyond what was previously known. Does that contradict science? Can there really only ever be what there has always been? Can there not be something unexpected, something unimaginable, something new? If there really is a God, is he not able to create a new dimension of human existence, a new dimension of reality altogether? Is not creation actually waiting for this last and highest “evolutionary leap”, for the union of the finite with the infinite, for the union of man and God, for the conquest of death?

Throughout the history of the living, the origins of anything new have always been small, practically invisible, and easily overlooked. The Lord himself has told us that “heaven” in this world is like a mustard seed, the smallest of all the seeds (Mt 13:31-32), yet contained within it are the infinite potentialities of God. In terms of world history, Jesus’ Resurrection is improbable; it is the smallest mustard seed of history. … And yet it was truly the new beginning for which the world was silently waiting.

In book, pope presents Jesus as reconciler, not political revolutionary

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — In his new volume on “Jesus of Nazareth,” Pope Benedict XVI presents the passion and resurrection of Christ as history-changing events that answer humanity’s unceasing need to be reconciled with God.

The 384-page book, titled “Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week — From the Entrance Into Jerusalem to the Resurrection,” was officially released March 10. The pope had worked for several years on the text, the second in his series exploring the main events of Jesus’ public ministry.

The Vatican said 1.2 million copies of the book had already been published in seven languages, and that an e-book version was also planned.

In a foreword, the pope said he did not set out to write another chronological “Life of Jesus,” but instead to present the figure and message of “the real Jesus” — not a political revolutionary and not a mere moralist, but the son of God who inaugurated a new path of salvation based on the power of love.

(full story)

Carnival returns to Port-au-Prince, but celebration is more subdued

Editor’s Note: CNS staff writer Dennis Sadowski and staff photographer Bob Roller arrived in Haiti yesterday afternoon to report on the aftereffects of the January 2010 earthquake.

People walk along a street in Port-au-Prince March 8. Much misery remains more than a year following Haiti's devastating earthquake. (CNS/Bob Roller)

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The pre-Lenten celebration of Carnival returned to the Haitian capital this week, but not with the usual sense of jubilance that marked the three-day affair prior to last year’s devastating earthquake.

Last night’s celebration featured a parade through the dusty, potholed streets of a neighborhood near downtown. Brass bands, vibrant dancers and street theater were all part of the festivities. Young people dressed in colorful — sometimes scanty — costumes and glitter faces. Others wore elaborately designed and decorated masks reflecting Haitian tradition. Clearly, most were made by the people who wore them.

The parade was also a chance for supporters of the two candidates in Haiti’s March 20 presidential election to show whom they backed. More than a few people were plastered with posters depicting popular singer Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly and former first lady Merlande Manigat, who are in the runoff election after two months of controversy marred Haiti’s attempt at a smooth, democratic transition in power.

Overall, long-standing revelers said, the themes this year were more subdued. But CNS photographer Bob Roller, who roamed the crowds in search of just the right image, seemed to think participants and the throngs along the parade route were trying to get back to normal after a year of horrendous hardship.

This year’s Carnival went off amid a bit of controversy. It was organized despite the loss of long-time financial backers who felt the festive affair was not far enough removed from the quake 14 months ago which claimed more than 300,000 lives. About 800,000 people still live in spontaneous settlements in ragged tents and squalid conditions.

The Haitian traditions continued today, Ash Wednesday, as the Christian world embarks on the six-week Lenten journey. From now through Easter, “rara” bands will traverse neighborhoods singing songs about life and events of the past year. Traditionally, the songs recall some of the not-so-fortunate news of the community from which the band hails in a ritual meant to evoke remorse and regret.

Radio Waumini: Voice for the Catholics in Kenya

NAIROBI, Kenya — In a country where many people outside of cities still do not own a television set, a 43-year-old priest and his staff of 35 are working to become the voice of Catholics.

Father Martin Wanyoike and his staff operate Radio Waumini, which was started by the Kenya Episcopal Conference but receives no funding from the bishops.

Father Martin Wanyoike, director of the Kenyan Catholic bishops' Radio Waumini, shows diocesan directors of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States around his studio in Nairobi. (CNS/Msgr. John E. Kozar)

Father Martin Wanyoike, director of the Kenyan Catholic bishops' Radio Waumini, shows diocesan directors of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States around his studio in Nairobi. (CNS/Msgr. John E. Kozar)

The station has a mix of music — not just religious — broadcast on an FM signal. It also broadcasts live online from 5:30 a.m.-10 p.m. each day and even has a page on Facebook.

“Our target — we want very much to bring on board the young people,” Father Wanyoike recently told a group of mission directors from the United States. “You cannot reach the young people by playing only choir music.”

Father Wanyoike has his own morning show and recently extended it to include Nairobi’s early morning drive-time for commuters. He also believes that some of the station’s talk shows and programs on reconciliation contributed to the “healing process of our country” after the ethnic violence that followed the December 2007 elections.

In the African culture, where people are orally inclined, “the radio has become the storyteller,” said Father Wanyoike. Radio is “easy, it’s accessible, it’s cheap to own.”

Archbishop Alain Lebeaupain, the Vatican’s ambassador to Kenya, agrees that radio is the way to communicate with people. When he met with the mission directors, he encouraged them to support Radio Waumini and said he would like to see it as a national network of stations so the church can communicate with all Kenyans.

Editor’s Note: CNS International Editor Barb Fraze and Visual Media Manager Nancy Wiechec were in Kenya last month on a trip funded by the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States.