Hope for the “restoration of the human person in his entire fullness”
Interview with Bishop Launay Saturné of the diocese of Jacmel, Haiti.
Five years after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, many churches and chapels still lie in ruins. They are a daily reminder of a natural disaster which on January 12, 2010 claimed the lives of almost a quarter of a million people, including that of Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot of Port-au-Prince.
In recent months, however, a number of attacks and robberies on priests and religious have unsettled the Catholic faithful. During a recent visit (on June 8) to international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) headquarters, Bishop Launay Saturné, of the diocese of Jacmel, reported on the situation and on the needs of the Haitian people.
ACN: Haiti is one of the poorest countries in Latin America. In recent months, we have heard reports again and again of attacks and robberies on priests and religious in the country. How is the Church, and how are the Catholic faithful dealing with the situation?
Bishop Launay Saturné: There is great concern among Catholics at these acts of violence. From November 2014 to February 2015 more than 20 religious communities were victims of robberies. In response, the Haitian bishops’ conference invited people to join in a 24-hour prayer vigil. And the association of the Haitian religious communities called on its members to commemorate 9 March as a day of solidarity and sympathy with all the victims of the present insecurity. On that day all the institutions run by the religious communities remained closed, and hundreds of religious sisters and priests walked in silent protest through the streets of the various Haitian cities, calling for an end to the violence. We are calling on the state authorities to ensure that human rights are guaranteed – irrespective of the religion of the individual. The demonstrations have had an effect; since then there have been fewer attacks.
ACN: Bishop Saturné, You were consecrated as bishop in April 2010, shortly after the terrible earthquake. So your time as bishop more or less coincides with the period of the reconstruction. How do things look in Haiti today?
Bishop Launay Saturné: Before the earthquake the situation in Haiti was already difficult; after the earthquake it was catastrophic. And even today all the damage is still very far from having been repaired. There is still a great deal to do. We are grateful for the generous support we have received since the earthquake and we have succeeded in rebuilding many chapels and churches. But there is still a great deal to be done. Not a few of the churches are dangerously unstable and cannot be used. In these places Holy Mass is still being celebrated in tents and other such makeshift structures.
ACN: The economic situation in Haiti is difficult and unemployment is high. Many people have fled to the other side of the island, to the neighbouring Dominican Republic, in hope of a better life. What does this mean for Haiti and for the Catholic Church?
Bishop Launay Saturné: It is above all the young people who are leaving Haiti. This is particularly painful for the country – and hence also for the Catholic Church. For the young are crucial to the future of our country. On top of this there is the fact that the refugees in the Dominican Republic are not exactly being welcomed with open arms. Pope Francis met with the Dominican bishops at the end of May in Rome and spoke to them of the importance of the pastoral and charitable care of these migrants.
ACN: The cathedral in Jacmel partially collapsed during the earthquake and still cannot be used. You are trying to raise money for the rebuilding of this cathedral. What importance does this church hold for the faithful?
Bishop Launay Saturné: The Cathedral of Saint Jacques and Philippe in Jacmel dates back to the 19th century. It is a religious and historic building. The faithful are very attached to this cathedral. Experts have determined that it can be restored. However, it is difficult to obtain funding for the rebuilding of churches. For the past five years now we have been celebrating Holy Mass, not in the cathedral, but in an altogether unsuitable hall instead. We need to have fitting places for religious worship, and for this reason it is important to rebuild our churches. But even if the church buildings themselves have been destroyed, the faith of the Catholics has not been destroyed.
ACN: During these difficult times the faithful need good pastors. What is the situation with regard to priestly vocations in your diocese, with its 27 parish communities?
Bishop Launay Saturné: Thank God, we have many vocations. There are 38 seminarians currently preparing for ordination; that is nine more than four years ago. They are studying at the seminary in Port-au-Prince. This year I will be ordaining three men to the priesthood.
ACN: Our charity is currently supporting a number of initiatives in your country. In addition to the building projects we are supporting the formation of catechists and seminarians. ACN is also supporting priests in their life and ministry and providing the resources they need for their daily work, such as the teaching materials and pastoral vehicles, for example. What is the most important help for your country?
Bishop Launay Saturné: We want to leave January 12, 2010 behind us as soon as we possibly can. The many ruined buildings are a daily reminder of it. We want to rebuild our homes and our churches. That is the physical rebuilding. But what is still more important to us is the people of Haiti. In January, speaking about Haiti, Pope Francis stressed emphatically that the human individual should be at the centre of our aid campaigns. He in fact said: “There can be no true rebuilding of the country without the restoration of the human person in his entire fullness.” We want to make these words of the Pope a living reality. The humanitarian work has to go hand in hand with the pastoral support. Each should complement the other.
ACN: How does this “restoration of the human person in his entire fullness” actually look in practice?
Bishop Launay Saturné: The vital key to this development is education. We need many more places of education – starting with the kindergartens and schools for the little ones and extending right up to the universities for the young adults. And we also need to support the young people financially, so that they can attend these schools and universities. It is a shocking thing that although we have a university in Jacmel, many young people cannot afford to attend it.