Archbishop Paul S. Coakley
Each time I have had the privilege of travelling as board chairman with Catholic Relief Services to one of the 93 countries where CRS serves, I have gained a deeper appreciation of the work CRS undertakes on behalf of Catholics in the United States.
Last week (Jan. 13-16), I was part of a small delegation to Haiti that included Dr. Carolyn Woo, CRS president and CEO, and Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). While there, we celebrated the 60th anniversary of our CRS presence in Haiti and marked the fifth anniversary of the devastating 2010 earthquake that left so much destruction in this already impoverished country.
My takeaway from this trip has been a deeper appreciation of one of the distinctive ways in which CRS operates around the globe. Catholic Relief Services places great value on the quality and importance of its partnerships. It is through CRS partnerships with the local Church, other Church organizations, relief and development agencies and governments that CRS is able to have its greatest impact in enhancing human dignity, responding to natural disasters, promoting peace and justice, and building sustainable mechanisms for greater food security, healthcare and economic opportunities for families and communities.
All of this work is carried out as an expression and manifestation of our Catholic faith.
The importance of partnerships is particularly evident in Haiti. In Haiti, our most important partner is the local Church. I would like to cite a couple of ways in which CRS is partnering effectively to make a difference in the lives of Haitians. The Catholic Church is the most trusted institution in Haiti. This is due to many factors, but one of these is certainly the Church’s work in education.
One of the recent partnerships that CRS has been involved with is the Catholic Education Initiative, which focuses on improving education in the 2,300 Catholic schools scattered around this nation of 10 million people that is no larger than Maryland! This partnership involves CRS working closely with the University of Notre Dame in Indiana in support of the Haitian Bishops Commission for Catholic Education (CEEC).
After a comprehensive assessment of all Catholic schools (including a GPS mapping of their locations) three goals were established: teacher accreditation, principal training and establishing school governance structures. Since the project began in 2010, the partners have been able to train more than 1,300 teachers, 350 principals and reach 375 schools in eight of the 10 dioceses of Haiti. There is more to be done, but this is an extraordinary beginning!
A literacy program called Haiti Reads, focusing on first and second grade students was added to the initiative in 2014. The quality of education in Haiti is improving through this partnership.
A very important element to appreciate is that CRS takes a supporting role by allowing the local Church to take the lead for the good of the Haitian people.
A second extraordinary partnership provided the occasion for making this trip at this particular time. The Hospital St. Francois de Sales was established in 1881 by the Archdiocese of Port au Prince to serve Haiti’s most vulnerable population. It was completely destroyed in the 2010 earthquake. In the aftermath of the quake, the Archdiocese and CRS began discussing the possibility of reconstructing the hospital. With funds from the Catholic Health Association (CHA), CRS and the Sur Futuro Foundation (Dominican Republic), reconstruction began in 2012.
An important element of this project has been a focus on strengthening the Archdiocese’s capacity by providing technical support for better financial and human resources systems. The result has been the construction of a 200-bed state-of-the-art teaching hospital in the heart of the capital.
Here, in association with the University of Notre Dame of Haiti, Haitian medical students and residents will prepare for careers in medicine without having to leave the country. The reconstructed Hospital St. Francois de Sales was blessed with a solemn Mass on Wednesday, Jan. 15. It was a privilege to witness the joy that this milestone in the recovery process represented.
The hospital is the first major capital project to be completed since the earthquake, and is a source of pride and sign of hope for the whole nation and all Haitian people.
This project would have been impossible for any single agency or institution. It is through the strength of valued and respectful partnerships that CRS is able to make an impact, not just through brick and mortar projects, but especially by investing in the local people and institutions where we serve.