Parishioners visit sister parish in Haiti Print
Around the Diocese
Written by Jan Hess, For the Catholic Herald   
Thursday, Apr. 11, 2019 -- 12:00 AM
Adrian Komperda, a volunteer from St. Cecilia Parish in Wisconsin Dells, meets children at a kindergarten at Sacred Heart School in Thiotte, Haiti, as part of the recent mission trip to St. Cecilia’s sister parish. To view more photos of the trip, go to (Contributed photo)

WISCONSIN DELLS -- Recently, eight members of St. Cecilia Parish in Wisconsin Dells, led by parishioner Kelli Trumble, visited their sister parish, Sacred Heart, in Thiotte, Haiti.

Thiotte is a community of approximately 25,000, located about 100 miles southeast of the capital, Port au Prince. The people are predominantly Roman Catholic. They speak Haitian Creole.

There is roughly 70 percent unemployment, and they live on, what is fondly called “Haitian time.” With a lack of electricity, one gets up with the roosters and goes to bed when the sun goes down.

Joined Parish Twinning Program

In 1993, St. Cecilia joined the Parish Twinning Program of the Americas, a non-profit organization which links Catholic churches with needy parishes in Haiti and other countries.

Parishioner Jan Kaiser is head of the St. Cecilia Haiti Commission and was instrumental in initiating the relationship. She continues to head the Haiti Commission today.

In the early years of the program, there were regular visits to Thiotte, where friendships were established and needs discussed. St. Cecilia established a monthly collection that helped create jobs, feed the neediest families, and sustain the workings of the church.

Medical missions were added in 1997 and now continue through the Haiti Medical Mission of Wisconsin, with teams travelling to the area three to four times a year.

With the exception of a building mission in 1999 and intermittent individual visits until 2005, years had passed since a mission was focused entirely on the Sacred Heart parish itself.

Time for a visit

Fr. Eric Sternberg, pastor of St. Cecilia, determined that there was a necessity to send a team down to visit Thiotte. The goal of the mission was to renew friendships, reassure the people of God’s love for them, and give an up-to-date assessment for parishioners on how their money was working in the community.

Before arriving in Haiti, the group decided that they would start each day with Morning Prayer from the Breviary, a Lenten reflection, the Rosary, and song, giving thanks to God for allowing them to make this journey and trusting him to make their observations fruitful to the parish.

Evening prayers were also observed, and often the group was joined by their trusted drivers, Domo and Marco, or other missionaries with whom they shared housing.

The words — “Bondye renmen ou” (God loves you!) — became their faith filled message.

Facing challenges

One of the earliest challenges the group faced was poor roads. It took five hours to reach Thiotte from Port au Prince. There were no rest stops, food, or conveniences along the way.

They passed women washing clothes in the river, people walking to water sources with large containers on their heads, and homes with tin roofs.

Despite the signs of poverty everywhere, they were greeted with waves and smiles, as well as spectacular views as they climbed higher and higher into the mountains.

Father Valery, the acting priest at Sacred Heart, met them with great hospitality. Also living at the parish were a seminarian and a young man discerning the priesthood.

It was learned just before the mission trip that the former priest had been hospitalized in Jacmel and would not be returning.

Parish problems

After having a tour of the rectory, it was noted that it was in unlivable conditions. The rooms were simple, but wires hung haphazardly from the ceiling light fixture and there was no electricity. In order to flush the toilet, one had to dip water from a cistern, fill the tank, and then flush.

The group was told that the one vehicle the parish owned was in for repairs, with no money to cover the costs ($2,000). This prevented the priest from getting out to the area chapels to say weekly Mass.

It was even hinted that the bishop may not permanently assign a priest to the parish unless conditions improved.

Of further dismay, the team learned that the government had cut off priest salaries ($60/month) five years ago. Parish priests now rely on their congregations and, if possible, their families for food in a country where one-meal-a-day is still the norm.

Joy-filled congregation

The following day, the group attended Mass, where they met a joy-filled congregation. The pews were crammed with people in their best clothing.

The choir sang with gusto, and a group of 30+ men and women renewed their Marian consecration.

Kelli Trumble spoke on behalf of St. Cecilia and thanked the community for their warm welcome. After the Mass, the mission group took “family photos,” organized by parishioner Melanie Jones. They were later printed and put in frame holders for the families as a gift from St. Cecilia’s.

Help from St. Cecilia’s

St. Cecilia’s also sent down clothing, jump ropes, soccer balls, miscellaneous toys and puzzles, school and first aid supplies.

Parishioner Tiffany Kolb researched the growing seasons in Thiotte and the types of vegetables that would grow well.

She found a non-profit organization, Seed Programs International (SPI), and was assisted in purchasing 1,500 packets of heat resistant varieties of cabbage, carrots, beans, tomatoes, spinach, onions, and bell peppers which will be distributed to parish members. Directions for planting was also printed in Haitian Creole by SPI.

Visits in community

In the ensuing days, the team made visits throughout the community.

They found the church school thriving with over 200 students enrolled and well staffed.

Donna Momot and Jan Hess led the team in updating the records of students enrolled in the St. Cecilia Child Sponsorship Program. (Parish members in Wisconsin Dells pay $150 a year to help support a child’s education and noon meal of rice and beans).

Angelika Tylka, Michelle Szymusiak, and Adrian Komperda, nicknamed the “Jeremies,” engaged the children in play and were very popular wherever the group went because of their youthful enthusiasm and faith.

A walk through the market revealed a whole new way of shopping for the group. Donkey parking lots were everywhere. On display were assorted vegetables, fruits, grains, soap, coffee, household items, and clothing. Goats were butchered on the spot and meat was lopped off, sold to customers, and carried away.

An outing to a local coffee plantation revealed how one family hoped to support themselves. The team witnessed how the coffee was grown and processed with simple tools. Walking through the plantation, they also saw pigs being raised and grapefruit and lemon trees interspersed for consumption and trade.

Haiti Medical Mission

Another stop was made at the Haiti Medical Mission, located across from the parish. The Haitian medical team spoke highly of the doctors and nurses who visit each year from Wisconsin to conduct vision screenings, eye surgeries, emergency birth procedures, and general surgeries.

The St. Cecilia team was amazed by how little the medical staff had to work with compared to our clinics and hospitals in the U.S. They were told that the clinic has thousands of patient visits each year with many diseases prevented and treated. It was clear that the clinic was greatly appreciated by the community!

Daily meals in Thiotte consisted of rice and beans, a small piece of fish/goat/chicken, and vegetables. A pumpkin soup was also served at one meal and enjoyed by all. Meals are simple and cooked over charcoal fires. The washing of clothes is done by hand.

Clean water is important, and the group found there was a great need for a water purifying system at the parish and school, as well as adequate plumbing. The boys’ bathroom at the school was an arrangement of five quart buckets behind one of the buildings. The girls did have a privacy enclosure.

Despite the poverty and many hardships faced by the people of Thiotte, the group found them to be grateful for the relationship with St. Cecilia’s, for their prayers and financial support.

Life-changing experience

As the mission team returns, they will be working on a full report, including detailed pictures of needs, for Father Sternberg and the Parish Council.

Presentations in CCD classrooms and another for the parishioners are also being planned.

In addition to visiting Thiotte, the mission team spent an afternoon playing with the children at Mother Teresa’s Home for Sick and Malnourished Children in Port au Prince, bartered for gifts at a craft market, and visited the BeLikeBrit orphanage in Grand Guave.

The mission was a life-changing experience for the eight visitors. They are grateful for the prayers that supported them along their journey and for Father Sternberg’s vision that an assessment was needed.

For St. Cecilia’s, there is a new awareness of the current physical and spiritual needs of Sacred Heart Parish. Looking forward, St. Cecilia’s hopes to find financial support for the 46 new students registered in the Child Sponsorship Program and requests prayers that a new priest be assigned to continue to meet the spiritual needs of the Sacred Heart community.

Please keep Haiti in your prayers!

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