Looking Back at Morningstar Catholic Collaborative’s Recent Trip to Haiti
By Stephen W. Fielding – Special to the Journal
When the Morningstar Catholic Collaborative, consisting of parishioners from St. Mary of the Assumption Par-ish, Revere and Our Lady of Grace Parish, Chelsea/Everett, embarked on their journey to sister parish – St. Joseph Parish in L’Asile, Haiti on January 29th, their mission, as it has been for twenty-two years, was to simply help the Haitian parish community, working with them side by side, immersing themselves in a mission of love, living the gospel through good works and bringing a beautiful people spiritual joy.
For most, their stay was expected to be two weeks. What they did not expect was a delay of several days and eventually being airlifted by helicopter to Port-au-Prince Airport, a distance of approximately five hours by truck. Requiring needed intervention from the Archdiocese of Boston administration, the team remained in communica-tion with Cardinal Sean O’Malley, daily contact with Fr. Paul Soper, Fr. Bill Joy, and dialogue with Mr. Joe McInnis of the Archdiocese Risk Management staff. They kept in daily connection with Senator Ed Markey’s staff and State Representative RoseLee Vincent along with staffer Ricky Serino. They were able to reach Port-au-Prince Airport and catch a flight to Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., prior to heading back to Boston on Sunday, Feb. 17, 2019. Due to political unrest and violent protests roads were closed, access to Port-au-Prince blocked, and food and water supplies at a standstill. Although they were safe and protected within the confines of St. Joseph’s grounds during this additional time of uncertainty as to when they return home and thanks to the pastor, Fr. Lucan, Assistant pastor, Fr. Colbert, and visiting priest and former pastor, Fr. David, the parish missionaries were able to depart safely.
Revere native Linda DeCristoforo, Pastoral Associate of The Morningstar Catholic Collaborative, one of the vol-unteer parish missionaries, and in her third visit to L’Asile, Haiti, expressed, “We never lost faith or hope even though we couldn’t leave. We just didn’t know how long we had to wait. We were safe, staying on church grounds. Our main concern was they we might run out of medications. We had to be ready at a moment’s notice.” Linda continued,” Finally, a decision to go had to be made. We could only take one carryon bag and leave the rest of our belongs behind. Two helicopters from the Dominican Republic finally landed in an open field near our site and took us to the Port-au-Prince Airport.”
As they flew over the city of Port-au-Prince, Linda realized the emptiness and lack of vehicles and crowdedness. “ Port-au-Prince is a very congested, bustling city that is actually bigger than Boston. It was amazing to see what it looked like during the manifestation”
During their tenure in L’Asile, Haiti the volunteer parish missionaries from Revere, Chelsea, and Everett had spent a little over two weeks in L’Asile and surrounding area before being unable to depart for home when scheduled. They had brought donated school supplies, household and hygiene essentials, and other everyday necessities and each day participated in work projects such as cleaning St. Joseph Church and school buildings, refurbishing, painting, and pouring concrete foundations for the kindergarten playground equipment, building retaining walls preventing hillside erosion, repairing church pews and statues, painting school classrooms, and conducting retreats and prayer services. Through generous donations from Revere and Chelsea/Everett parishioners they were able to purchase bags of rice, beans, and other foodstuffs They were welcomed with open arms by the Haitian community and felt blessed to give, receiving more than they ever imagined.
When asked about how the Haitians lived on a daily basis with no running water, a single well for water to ac-commodate the entire region, no electricity only workable by either solar panels or generators, she said, “They are grateful for what they have. They are a very loving, caring community with a profound goodness, and a life cen-tered around their church and school. That’s all they have.”
The Haitian community in L’Asile and surrounding area are totally dependent on a water well and pump for cooking, washing clothes, bathing and drinking. It is absolutely a vital part of their lives. There is no running water or plumbing in the homes. The water is pulled from rivers and streams and is not fresh. The local Haitians have built up anti-bodies and drink this. However, the parish missionaries could not. They drank purified water to ensure their health was not compromised. The local people travel major distances and many miles for water, carrying all sorts of containers and buckets. Many walk while others utilize motorcycles, bicycles or donkeys. The team was in awe at how the local community depended on this necessity we normally take for granted. Thy are grateful for everything they have – particularly their life at St. Joseph Parish. Linda said that despite their poverty, the people dress up every Sunday for church services and actually arrive two to three hours before mass, even before the parish priest gets there, to sing and pray. She noted that,” This is all they have. Their faith sustains them.” She talked about their homes that are made of cement blocks, wood, or natural elements. Many are farmers or merchants. Some are woodworkers. They often sell their fruits and vegetables or other wares at a marketplace.
St. Joseph Parish School consists of 400 children, 180 in the kindergarten. The children dress in very clean uniforms. Their breakfast is usually powdered milk and bread while lunch is rice and beans. These are the only meals they eat each day. The parish team was extremely welcomed by the children.
In addition to St. Joseph Parish in L’Asile, Father Lucan and Colbert visit seven chapel sites located throughout the mountainous areas in the province. These parishioners are visited by the priests once a month. At each visit the priest says mass, performs baptisms, confirmations, weddings, and other sacraments. Linda also cited that music and an upbeat, positive attitude at these visits was amazing. “Going to Haiti has changed my life in a profound way. To see them have so little, live in extreme poverty, yet be so loving and caring has certainly affected me and strengthened my faith. They are so much more holy than I am” During the month prior to the priests’ visits, lay directors hold prayer services, bible studies, and other religious activities.
During their stay the team members were working on playground equipment when thick, black smoke raged into the sky from below where they were located. With no fire department, fire hydrants, hoses, or running water around the parish priest parish ran back to the church, jumped into a pickup a truck, retrieved several 50-gallon empty drums and a number of five-gallon buckets, and hurried to a river in order to fill them. As soon as the truck arrived at fire site a bucket brigade was formed including local people who carried brought their own buckets too. Other trucks joined the effort and older students helped. The locals then began to throw rocks on the tin roof to try to collapse it and smother the fire. Eventually the fire dissipated and subsided. Luckily, the fire didn’t spread. One homeowner owner suffered some burn injuries. He was treated with medical supplies brought from the donations the Morningstar Catholic Collaborative parishioners.
The L’Asile connection began twenty-two years when former Our Lady of Grace pastor, Fr. Jerry Fitzgerald became involved with the Parish 20 Program. Fr. Jim Barry continued it, and it thrives today. Each year a parish team of volunteer missionaries goes to Haiti. They are always on a mission of love and are certainly living the gospel, setting an unbelievable example of Christ through good works.
The Morningstar Haiti Team members included Kristen Ells, Bill Ells, Linda DeCristoforo, Paula Jimenez, Johnny Jimenez, Bob Heinle, Judy Zolla, Linda McElwaney, Noreen Murphy, Eileen Maquire, Fr. Jim Barry, Dieulita Narcisse, and Immacula Cayrad. While in Haiti some members stayed over the entire period while others rotated. There were ten airlifted to the airport.
(Thank you to Linda DeCristoforo for this interview, writing a daily Haiti blog from which some information was obtained, and taking beautiful photos.)