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6728: Poorest nation teaches the meaning of happiness (fwd)
From: nozier <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Poorest nation teaches the true meaning of happiness
By MAUREEN HAYDEN, Courier & Press staff writer
(812) 464-7433 or email@example.com
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
“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.”