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Thoughts on Twinning with Haiti

Tue, Jul 24th, 2012

Thoughts on Twinning with Haiti

Rich and Rachel Higgins

At St. Mark’s, we often say: you really can’t find two more opposite groups of people or places than our twinned parish of Notre Dame de Lourdes in Port-au-Prince and our parish in Westbrook, CT. But nevertheless, the connection between the two parishes is real and runs very deep.

And, oh, the lessons we’ve learned on the past 2 trips to Haiti!

Initially we had some fears about the dangers of traveling to Haiti, but Jesus commands us to be not afraid we felt that if this was Gods Will for us, then we should forget our worldly fears and trust in Him. We also contemplated whether our money would be better used as a direct donation to Haiti instead of using it to pay for our travel to visit in person. But then we were reminded of our twinning covenant that says, among other things, that we will visit at least once a year. This is because the twinning relationship is about so much more than sending money.

And so we finally made it to Haiti in 2008. Our first experience with our twin was at a Sunday Mass.  The first thing we noticed as we entered the church, was the painting of the dual icons of Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Mark that we gave them as a gift 3 years before. The painting is now mounted on the altar to serve as a reminder of their sisters and brothers in Westbrook, CT who love them. It was at this service that we heard the most uplifting choir we had ever heard!

After the service, we met many of the 40 children whom St. Marks sponsors to go to school. The biggest challenge was trying to communicate with people without a common language, but thankfully, the local priests helped facilitate our discussions. Some of our scholarship students squashed into the vehicle with us and took us on a tour of their schools.

That short ride was a real ice-breaker for everyone and made our next meeting after Mass on Sunday relaxed and fun. The students and their parents gathered and greeted us with songs, words of thanks, handshakes, hugs and smiles all around. They really appreciated the Christmas cards we gave them from St. Marks CCD students, hand-decorated with greetings in Creole.

Being a people of life, we acknowledge that every human has dignity given by God. Despite all the frustration and difficulty in Haiti due to poor housing, sanitation and poverty, we were witnessing our twin parishioners holding their heads up, praising God for the good things in life, and simply trying to move forward day by day.

 If we want to truly stand in solidarity with our Haitian brothers and sisters, we can certainly help them with money, prayers and projects, but even more than that, we can offer human connection, someone to listen to their stories and let them know that they are not forgotten in a harsh and unfair world. When we visit, we become more than a donor to them, we show personal interest and can acknowledge their dignity as fellow pilgrims who need love and encouragement to face each new and difficult day.

After our parish visits to Haiti, it is very hard not to return with a different perspective on life. This was especially true for the teenagers that came with us. They were especially affected by the connection with our Haitian sisters and brother, and I believe the experience will be a powerful antidote to the self-absorbed world around them. We hope to take many more young people in the future as we also soon found out that children connect with each other so much more easily and quickly than adults language is no barrier to them!

After all, God could have made it the other way around their lot could have been ours. Visiting Haiti offers us the opportunity to be grateful for everything we have and makes it easier easier to face life’s challenges.

St. Marks twinning connection with Haiti through Notre Dame de Lourdes has been uniquely valuable as a church project bringing together two very different cultures and languages that can communicate in the language of love and mutual respect through the celebration of the Mass. We share in the one Eucharist, pray in unity with each other, and touch each other’s lives in deep and lasting ways. We receive Gods grace by living our faith through good works, and we are protected by an umbrella, built through prayers of these suffering and most holy disciples of Christ. We become like Simon of the 8th Station of the Cross, lending a hand to our Haitian brothers and sisters in Christ as we all travel down the road to salvation.


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