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6728: Poorest nation teaches the meaning of happiness (fwd)

From: nozier <nozier@tradewind.net>

Poorest nation teaches the true meaning of happiness
  By MAUREEN HAYDEN, Courier & Press staff writer
 (812) 464-7433 or maureenh@evansville.net

When a Nashville, Tenn., businessman approached  parish leaders at Holy
Family Catholic Church in 1983  with a plea to send money and resources
to an impoverished
 village in Haiti, he found a skeptic in their midst. The skeptic was
one of the the parish priests, the Rev. Richard Wildeman.
After listening to stories of malnutrition, high infant death  rates,
rampant illiteracy, antiquated medical care, and the  scarcity of such
simple things as clean water and electricity,ildeman questioned if what
he was hearing was true.
 Could things be that bad, he wondered, and if they were, could his
flock in Jasper, Ind., really make any difference?  Wildeman decided to
go see for himself. The trip changed his life.
He came back a believer, a man committed to sharing the  time, talent
and treasures of his parish with the people of the  poorest nation in
the Western Hemisphere.
Last year, he made another leap of faith, when he left his  position as
pastor of an Evansville church to move to Haiti. There he serves a
parish with 42,000 members.
Earlier this week, he left for a trip through the Haitian  countryside
with an expert on goat care. They?ll be teaching villagers about the
care and handling of goats, which are
precious commodities because they provide milk, meat and material for
clothing in a land of scarcity.
Wildeman is not the only one who has been transformed by Haiti. Through
a national program that pairs Catholic churches in the United States
with Catholic churches in Haiti,
 thousands of American Catholics have traveled to the country  to
deliver medical supplies and help build roads, homes,  hospitals and
 ?Haiti will change you forever,? said John Schroering, a  Jasper
Catholic who made his first trip to Haiti in 1985. ?You  can?t come back
the same.? Schroering is a member of Holy Family and one of the first
in  the congregation to travel to Haiti as part of the Parish  Twinning
Program of the Americas, the network of American  and Haitian Catholic
churches that have formally paired   themselves up. It?s administered by
a small staff in Nashville. Its first director was Harry Hosey, a
Catholic businessman  who founded the Twinning project after he and his
wife  vacationed on a cruise ship that stopped in Haiti. They asked  a
local taxi driver to take them to the poorest neighborhoods. Moved by
what he saw, Hosey returned home and  persuaded his church to start a
mission project with a church  in Haiti. He soon persuaded other
Catholic churches in Nashville to do the same.
 The intent of the project was to create a reciprocal relationship
between the ?twinned? churches. ?It?s not charity,? said Theresa
Patterson, director of  the national program. ?It?s about what they can
learn from us  and what we can learn from them. There isn?t a person
I?ve met who has been to Haiti (through the twinning program) that
hasn?t come back and said, ?I got so much more from  them than I ever
 How that could occur startles some people, Patterson said. Haiti is the
poorest nation in the Americas. More than 75  percent of its people live
in poverty and 60 percent are
unemployed. The illiteracy rate is more than 54 percent, the  life
expectancy is 54 years, the infant mortality rate is 10 times  what it
is in the United States, and only one-third of the  people have regular
access to clean drinking water.
 But the wealth of the Haitian people, she said, isn?t material. ?They
have a faith in God that runs deep,? said Patterson. ?And what they
teach us about the difference between what  we think we need to be happy
and what is truly necessary is  worth more money than any American
has.?  Schroering gives testimony to that belief.
 ?I was angry when I got back,? he said. ?A friend told me, ?I  didn?t
like you very much when you returned.? It was because  I was a changed
man. I saw everything differently. You can?t go down to Haiti and see
the poverty there, and meet the  incredible people there, and not come
back here and see so much waste and unhappiness.?
  Schroering is now involved in raising money to help build a  road to
Dupity, the rural village where Holy Family?s twinned church is located.
There is a primitive road now, but during  the rainy season it gets
washed out and becomes impassable. A new road, said Schroering, would be
a lifeline for medical  care and other necessities.
 Members of St. John the Baptist Church in Newburgh are  raising money
to build a new nutrition center for the people of  their twinned church.
But church members who have traveled there say much more than the
physical has been built.  ?There is such a personal connection between
us,? said Mary  Seibert, who will return to Haiti in March with a group
from  St. John?s. ?The people there have embraced us, made us  their
friends and welcomed us.? In 1986, on her first trip to Haiti, she and
others from the church were stranded there for a week after their
scheduled departure. The airport had been shut down after a coup toppled
the regime of dictator Jean Claude Duvalier  ?I loved it,? said Seibert.
?I didn?t feel any danger. The  people there made us feel welcome and
safe. To spend one more week with them was a gift.?
 Twenty churches in the Evansville Catholic Diocese are part  of the
Parish Twinning programs. Some provide only money, while others send
people to Haiti for short-term mission  projects.
 The most successful are the ones whose parishioners have visited Haiti
and returned with stories of transformation.   ?For the program to work,
you have to have people whose
 hearts are on fire,? said Patterson, who now oversees more  than 350
twinned churches.
 ?For that to happen, you have to go there. You have to meet  the people
and discover that what you will get from them is more than you can ever
offer to them.?