Update from Fr. Mike Seis
in Dominican Republic
Editor’s note: Fr. Mike Seis, pastor of the Green Bay diocesan mission in Elías Piña, sent an e-mail to the diocese Jan. 14, giving an update on the situation there. Here is the text of his e-mail.
Greetings from Elías Piña. I realize that all of you are aware that everything is fine here at the diocesan mission. Elías Piña is less than 100 miles north east of Port-au-Prince as the crow flies. The road between Elías Piña and the Haitian capital is very bad. I drove the road last spring and it took over four hours to go 100 miles.
When the earthquake hit, it was felt here in Elias Piña and all of the Dominican Republic. When it hit, the mission group from the Fox Valley and I were walking to Mass on an open road, where there were no trees or tall buildings, so we didn´t feel the movement. The group members that stayed back at the parish did feel and where quite shocked. Later in the evening, there were more tremors; those I felt because I was in bed.
As you are all aware, the situation in Haiti is chaotic. The Catholic cathedral of Port-au-Prince was destroyed and the archbishop was killed. I participated in an ordination Mass last year with the archbishop and visited the cathedral and the presidential palace, which was also destroyed.
There are many Haitians living here in Elías Piña and many don´t know anything about their families. The casualties are staggering. This weekend all of the Catholic parishes in the Dominican Republic from the 11 dioceses in the country will be sending their Sunday collections to Catholic Charities of Haiti. Catholic Charities of the Dominican Republic and Haiti have a very close working relationship. All aid from the Dominican Republic will be going through Catholic Charities.
Here in Elías Piña, tomorrow there will be a radio marathon for the victims in Haiti. People here have been collecting food items, water, etc. that will be taken to Port au Prince on Saturday. The Dominican government responded immediately to the crisis sending help. There are many activities planned in major cities of the DR to help Haiti. Dominican hospitals are receiving patients from Haiti, including our hospital here in Elías Piña. God bless,
Fr. Mike Seis
Green Bay Diocesan Mission
Friends of Haiti began as a parish twinning program with St. Anne Parish in Thomazeau, located about 20 miles northeast of Port-au-Prince. Due to road conditions, the drive from the capital takes about 45 minutes to one hour, he said.
In addition to Thomazeau, the parish boundaries also include villages further north, including Grand Boulage, Mahotiere, Plaisance and Noyau. The parish is home to about 50,000 people, with 11 chapels and several schools.
“We conduct medical missions in usually four or five locations each time we go,” said the priest. “We usually serve like 5,000 people when we have our medical missions. We are also working on water, education and economic development.”
Fr. Canavera’s most recent trip to Haiti was last October, when he, 15 medical doctors, two dentists, 25 nurses and 30 other volunteers traveled to Thomazeau. He was preparing for another trip Jan. 18, but the trip has been canceled.
“We were going to be studying water resources and water needs in the areas we serve,” he said. “We just feel that the main thing needed right now is the great relief effort” that is under way. “We don’t think we could get through Port-au-Prince with all the deaths. With the death of the archbishop (Joseph Serge Miot), people are in grief and we can’t proceed with the projects.”
Fr. Canavera said he was happy that a national collection was to be taken up in parishes last weekend for Haiti. “We need to work through established means and Catholic Relief Services has been, is and will be in Haiti” to provide relief.
Dr. Jack Hale, a Green Bay obstetrician, is a founding member of Friends of Haiti. Since 2000, he has made about 18 trips to Haiti. “The poverty and the lack of medical care is a big thing,” he said about the challenges there. “I think we’re making a small improvement in the areas that we’re serving. There’s a little less desperation because they know we’re coming back and I really think there’s a small improvement.”
Hale said seeing the damage in Port-au-Prince “is pretty amazing. And pretty sad because the people don’t have anything at all and now they have even less. They don’t even have a roof over their heads, which is something we can’t comprehend.”
He fears that a food shortage and lack of medical care will lead to deaths by starvation and dehydration.
Hale, who last traveled to Haiti in October 2009, hopes to lead a five-day surgical trip to Haiti with four other medical doctors in March. It will be the group’s first surgical trip and he expects them to perform procedures such as hernias and hysterectomies.
“We finally found a place where we could do surgery, so we organized a surgical trip,” he said. “That’s in about seven weeks, so hopefully we can go. Our medical trip will be in April, which will be 12 weeks from now. … We fly into Port-au-Prince, but the areas we serve, they are further north and east, where the damage wasn’t as severe.”
Hale said he is proud of the work Friends of Haiti has accomplished over the years. “I think we do a good job. A lot of good people are involved who are selfless, and I like going back because it helps keep you grounded. You don’t get too lost in the material world of today.”
He asks people in Wisconsin to keep the people of Haiti in their thoughts and prayers. “Not just now. We can’t forget about them because they are so poor.”
Jackie Kucera, a member of St. Bernard Parish in Green Bay, oversees travel arrangements for Friends of Haiti. She said the group was unable to contact many of their interpreters and drivers who live in Port-au-Prince. “We haven’t heard from many of (them), so there is a lot of worry and concern,” she said.
On Jan. 19, Joan Hogan reported that most of their contacts in Haiti had been located. “Now that most of our partners and friends in Haiti have been accounted for, emotions can settle down and all energies can focus on the work at hand,” she said.
When Friends of Haiti members travel, they stay at a guest house called Matthew25, which is run by Sr. Mary Finnick. Kucera said she was able to make contact with Sr. Mary last week. “She said they are using a generator and are able to take care of patients at a soccer field. We’re hoping we are able to get our supplies to them. Right now it appears to be a long shot.”
Kucera said the group will seek donations to send medical supplies to Haiti. “At the moment we are sort of in a limbo until things straighten out,” she said. “People are very generous and it’s been an overwhelming response.”
Kucera has even heard from doctors in Kosovo, who learned about Friends of Haiti online. They wanted to work with the organization to send 22 medical professionals to Haiti to help with the relief.
She said seeing the earthquake damage on television has been heartbreaking, “but the response has really been heartwarming.”
To learn more about Friends of Haiti, visit their Web site, www.friendsof haiti-gb.com.