Haitian bishop proposes exchange of prayers, help

March 07, 1991|By Frank P. L. Somerville | Frank P. L. Somerville,Religion Editor of The Sun

An unusual exchange program between a Roman Catholic diocese in Haiti and the Archdiocese of Baltimore was proposed here yesterday by a Haitian bishop.

"My people, even if they are poor, have a deep faith in God," said Bishop Emmanuel Constant of Les Gonaives, the third most populous community in Haiti. "They will pray for the people of Baltimore."

In exchange, Bishop Constant suggested, "the archdiocese here can lead the people of Baltimore to make sacrifices for us, keeping in mind how important it is for the healthy people to help the poor people."

Bishop Constant, who spoke during an interview in the downtown rectory of the Basilica of the Assumption, said nearly one million people in his diocese need food, medical treatment and supplies, clothing and agricultural implements.

"But their greatest need is education," he said, noting that as many as 85 percent of Haitians are illiterate.

Baltimore Archbishop William H. Keeler met Bishop Constant through a mutual friend in Pennsylvania, a Haitian-born doctor practicing near Harrisburg.

The archbishop announced yesterday that the Baltimore and Les Gonaives dioceses will form a partnership along the lines proposed bythe visiting prelate.

A committee was appointed to devise ways to direct some of Baltimore's medical, industrial and educational expertise as well nTC as the results of fund raising to the impoverished Haitian diocese.

Myrtle Stanley, a member of the committee, said an example of the kind of help she sees growing out of the "sister diocese" relationship is what happened after a Baltimore dentist vacationed nine years ago in Haiti's neighboring country, the Dominican Republic.

Since that first visit, Mrs. Stanley said, the dentist has returned every year to the Dominican Republic to lend assistance.

Most recently, he took 14 other dentists with him, all providing free dental care and training while they were there, Mrs. Stanley said.

Bishop Constant, who is 63, said he was hopeful that last month's inauguration of a 37-year-old Catholic priest and liberal activist, the Rev. Jean-Bertrand Aristide, as president of Haiti had begun a new era of democratic progress for his nation. Father Aristide, who is not allowed to function as a priest in public because of his political activities, received nearly 70 percent of the votes in the Dec. 16 election.

Stimulation of a tourist business in Haiti would be helpful, the bishop said, because, "We have a very beautiful but a very poor country."

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