By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
BETTENDORF — “Prayer can move mountains,” said Father Jim Vrba, pastor of St. John Vianney Parish. “May peace and freedom return to Haiti and our troubled world,” he continued during a prayer service Jan. 19 in the church.
Parishioners organized the service, “Prayer for Peace for Haiti and our World,” the week that some of them had planned to make a medical mission trip to Haiti. That trip was canceled due to ongoing violence in Haiti that has spread to the outer regions, including Jean Denis where the parish’s partner is located.
Father Vrba spoke of St. John Vianney’s call to help those in Haiti. Following the massive earthquake in 2010, the parish collected money to provide relief. Parishioners wanted to do more and teamed up with Hands Together in Florida. That collaboration led to St. John Vianney’s forming a relationship with Notre Dame de Rosarie (Our Lady of the Rosary) Parish in Jean Denis, Haiti.
Just before the service, he said, he checked the temperature in Haiti. “It is 91 degrees.” The crowd laughed. They had arrived for the service in single-digit temperatures with a wind chill.
Ann Wester of the Haitian Connection service team at St. John Vianney gave the opening prayer that followed the song “Let There Be Peace on Earth.”
Ken Miller of the St. John Vianney group read a letter in English from Father Jean Solomon, pastor of the Haitian parish. “The translation from Haitian Creole to English is a little bumpy, but the message is easily understood,” Miller said. Later in the service, the gathering listened to the priest’s message in Haitian Creole.
Father Solomon thanked the Iowans for their support and talked about the unstable situation in Haiti. “There is a lot of violence; especially in Jean Denis. There are two groups of gangs that are fighting each other to take control of that locality. That causes a lot of farmers’ families to be victims because they can’t go to work. They can’t go to the Pont-Sonde market to sell their products.”
He said many children are not able to attend school, especially students who live close to the fighting. “This year we had 335 students that applied for the school year, but now because of the violence only 150 come to school. The other students may have gone to Saint-Marc or Gonaïves or somewhere else in the country.”
He continued, “The violence causes a lot of families to struggle financially because they can’t do their daily activities, and with no money they can’t go to see a doctor.” The priest offered a big thank you to St. John Vianney and its supporters for sending money to help. “We were able to help some families that were really in need. Especially families that have a lot of children and pregnant women…. They were able to go see a doctor and would have a little left to purchase some food.”
Some of the Haitian families were able to sell cookies, candy, bar soap and laundry soap. Some buy rice and store it at a depot. When things calm down, they can resell the rice in Pont-Sonde or Port au Prince. Father Solomon said, “We will continue to walk alongside these families, because we believe it’s our rule as Christians if we are preaching the Gospel as the good news. We will help them to be self-sufficient also.” He said the people continue to “count on your prayers for the violence to stop in the country.”
Several people connected with the Haitian mission committee spoke to the gathering.
Claudy Pierre-Charles said, “On behalf of the Haitian people, thank you for coming.” He said his experience with St. John Vianney began in 2015 as a Haitian bus driver and translator. Someone asked him what he wanted to learn. He said, “I want to learn about cars.”
That started a plan in motion for him to attend Scott Community College in the Iowa Quad Cities to work on his education. “This has been a huge blessing.” Eventually he will head back to Haiti and use the skills he has learned in the U.S. “Thank you for being God’s hands and feet and serving the people of Haiti.”
Parishioner Dr. Mark Blaser has served on many of the medical missions. He said he is not handy and technology is not his specialty. However, his work as a physician allowed him to treat people with health needs and to assist others on the trip to serve as medical technicians and pharmacists. “Everyone has some part to play.” During each mission trip, the group serves around 1,800 Haitians and gives out hundreds of pairs of eyeglasses, he said.
Parishioner Kevin Cassatt said that Wester’s persistence led him to go to Haiti. He has made five mission trips there. “I have been blessed to see God’s kingdom a little differently,” Cassatt said. “I have seen the light shine in my soul. I see the connection between every one of us. The only difference is the distance.” The people of Haiti continue to amaze him as they work, pray and evangelize, despite the violence.
The service closed with a prayer by Rabbi Linda Bertenthal of Temple Emanuel in Davenport.