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St. Cecelia parishioners visit twin parish in Haiti

By RENEE WEBB, Globe senior reporter
(Email Renee)

ALGONA – Having a chance to meet directly with members of their twin parish and learn first-hand of their needs is just one of the reasons why trips to Haiti are becoming a tradition at St. Cecelia Parish.

Ten parishioners – four adults and six students at Bishop Garrigan High School – recently took part in the parish’s latest trip, the fifth organized to visit St. Jeanne de Chantal in Haiti.

Joyce Van Haastert, lifelong faith formation director at St. Cecelia, assists Rick and Darcy Schultz in organizing the trips.

“Seeing pictures and hearing stories, doesn’t come close to the reality that our brothers and sisters are real people with families, school and work when they can find it, with whom we have more in common than not,” stressed Van Haastert. “You can’t forget when you see, touch and feel.” 

Impressions

The impressions of the people and their lifestyles stood out to those who went to Haiti.

For Al Laubenthal, the people in the congregation at Sunday Mass in the La Hut parish made a big impression on him.

“The church has rock floor and no walls or pews and people walk up to an hour, but the people still come and celebrate Mass,” he said. “I am going to try to remember their experience as I celebrate in the Eucharist on Sundays going forward.”

Zeb Besch said one day they came across a group of four men plowing a field by hand. He described it as “very labor-intensive work.”

One of the men was 80 years old and Besch noted you could see every muscle on him, not an ounce of fat.

“I was just thrown back at that age that he could still function and be productive and how the people of Haiti even in the 21st Century are using hand tools, ox and plow to work the ground,” he said. “What was even more impressive is the positive attitude the men had; no complaining, no self-pity, no asking for a handout – just proud of what they had and how they did it.”

Hunter Theesfeld, a senior at Bishop Garrigan, said the trip definitely strengthened her own faith.

“As a teenager, or even just an ordinary human being, you tend to slip away from God time after time. On my trip to Haiti, the whole community taught me that sometimes faith is all you have. The people I got to meet were so happy with so little,” she said. “They knew they didn't have much but they we're thankful for what they did have.”

Vanessa Dodds, a senior at Bishop Garrigan, said the trip deepened her faith because she saw how strong their faith was.

“I began to admire them for their faith,” she said. “I learned that people all over the world can live with nothing and that we are spoiled and take it for granted and I am working really hard to change my ways on a lot of things.”

Lori Reding said she noticed the children in Haiti all seem so happy. They took care of and watched out for each other.

“They didn't have much as far as material things, but they had their friends and they played and made up their own entertainment with imagination,” she said.

Reding said they appeared to truly appreciate the simple things in life.

Witness impact

“The pragmatic benefit of us going is that we get to see and ask what they need us to do for them,” Van Haastert said. “We were able to tell our parish that we actually saw the repaired church roof and the new classroom they built using the funds we provided.” 

They were also able to see the meals - the preparation of them and the children eating them - that were packaged by St. Cecelia’s cluster parishioners. The cluster parishes participate in the “Parish Families Against Hunger” ministry that holds a packaging day on Palm Sunday. Cluster parishes include St. Michael in Whittemore, St Joseph in Bode, St. Benedict, St. Joseph in Wesley and Sacred Heart in Livermore.

St. Cecelia’s sends money that has been donated to the Twin Parish in Haiti Program every three months. The money is earmarked for the school, church, chapels and for internet. They collect money for St. Jeanne’s during Lent and have a breakfast for Haiti.  For three years now St. Cecelia’s has collected items such as school supplies, sewing machines, fabric and various other donations to send down in a sea container.   

While in Haiti, the Algona group was able to see how their donated first-aid supplies had been put to use when they worked in a free medical clinic offered to the people of Chantal. There was a nurse and a couple of CNAs who did intake and took blood pressure. Others acquired information like names and addresses from the people, counted medicine, directed people where to go and so on.

“This may be some of the only medical care these people get.  Some of them walked a whole day to get there and maybe had to wait another whole day,” Van Haastert said. “The little things we take for granted such as vaccines, antibiotics and cataract treatment that they will never get was eye opening.”  

In addition to the monetary support sent from Iowa to Haiti, the parishes pray for each other.

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