Charity Group Sounds Alarm for Haiti

Visit From Aid to the Church in Need Brings Call for Help

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KOENIGSTEIN, Germany, JAN. 16, 2008 (Zenit.org).- After a three-week assessment of the economic and humanitarian crisis in Haiti, the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need has labeled the poverty devastating.

Haiti is recognized as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The charity organization said the Church offers one of the only elements of hope for the Caribbean island nation.

Officials from Aid to the Church in Need filed 60 aid applications following the trip. Requests range from solar panels for the electricity-deprived island to a maternity hospital for the capital city.

The organization's Latin American Projects director, Javier Legoretta, explained that the communication services in Haiti are so lacking that the only way to even assess the needs was visiting the island.

"The only way you can begin to help the people in Haiti is to share in their suffering. Only that way can you begin to love them and to understand their needs," Legoretta said. "Speaking to so many people -- bishops, priests, sisters and lay people -- the message we received was the same: They feel completely forgotten and even rejected by the world."

Aid to the Church in Need reported that some 4% of Haitians are HIV positive and 75% live below the internationally recognized poverty line.

Some 20% of Haitians have emigrated in search of a better life.

A positive note

In the midst of the dire situation, Haiti is rich in vocations to the priesthood. There are about 8 million Haitian Catholics, though many of them are not practicing. Still, some 1,000 men are studying for the priesthood. Aid to the Church in Need is promising support for the seminarians.

Legoretta said ongoing formation of the clergy is a priority for the nation's bishops, though he lamented that the seminarians' spiritual needs sometimes have to take a back seat to ensuring their daily survival.

Legorreta further noted Haiti's humanitarian crisis, citing a collapse in moral values. He said, for example, that he was shocked by the lack of basic social skills like table manners.

Aid to the Church in Need is a charitable association of pontifical right and thus directly answerable to the Holy See. The charity has fundraising offices in 17 countries and annually supports more than 8,000 pastoral projects in some 140 countries.