“What Haiti needs is a ‘new man’ who lives a Christian life in today’s society”

Interview with Mgr Launay SATURNÉ, Archbishop of Cap-Haïtien since 23 September this year and president of the Haitian Bishops’ Conference, during his visit to the international headquarters of the international Catholic pastoral charity and Pontifical Foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

Mgr. Launay Saturné ( Archbishop of Cap-Haitien, Haiti and president of the Haitian Bishop´s Conference)
Mgr. Launay Saturné, Archbishop of Cap-Haitien, Haiti and president of the Haitian Bishop´s Conference.

His country, which was struck once again by an earthquake this October, is also plagued internally by cases of corruption extending to the highest levels of the state. On Monday, 22 October President Jovenel Moïse sacked two members of his cabinet, including the Chief of Cabinet (akin to a Prime Minister) due to involvement in scandals for their own personal enrichment.

The vast majority of the 11.5 million inhabitants of Haiti regard themselves as Christians and Catholics, with only 2.7% agnostics and 2.7% animists.These figures however by no means reflect the complexity of the religious picture, in which the influence of voodoo is a powerful force within society.

 

How did the bishops react to the recent cases of corruption which have convulsed the country?

The Catholic hierarchy in Haiti, including the Haitian bishops’ conference, has always accompanied the people, both in their faith and in their daily struggle for human dignity. The reaction of the bishops should be seen in this context. In an official statement, the bishops have publicly denounced the corruption, because it is a scourge, an evil in society. I quote: “It tends to become widespread in society, to develop into a system and it causes damage that is difficult to repair. This situation is nothing new, but this time it has reached a level and a scale that are unacceptable and unsustainable.” We have observed a positive reaction within society in the face of this scandal. “What is very interesting is that this scandal is causing a collective awareness that is strong and healthy. The people are demanding justice with one voice, fully aware that corruption is a radical evil which endangers their collective future.” Everything appears to indicate that funds intended for development, for bringing growth to the country and freeing us a little from the poverty of every kind, has instead been misused and misappropriated. Everyone knows just how useful this money would have been for the reconstruction of our country and for improving the socio-economic conditions of our people. As bishops and pastors we must walk together with the people of God, who have been entrusted to our fatherly and pastoral care.

 

What steps is the Catholic Church in Haiti taking in this context?

The Church must always remain faithful to her Divine Founder. It is by means of this fidelity that we can continue to grow in love and hope, as the Gospel tells us to. In this context our first action as the hierarchy of the Church is to continue walking with the people as we must do as their shepherds. In addition, we must help the people to become better educated in the social teaching of the Church, so that they can be more aware of its role and implication in the responsible management of public life for the good of all. Finally, the preaching of the Gospel is intrinsically a form of leaven that can change hearts and situations from within, like the yeast in the dough in St Matthew’s Gospel (13:33). All this is part and parcel of the overall plan of evangelization, education and formation, which the Church seeks to place at the disposal of all believers, in order to train and motivate them to assume their responsibilities within society and within the country.

But all of this has to take place first of all within the family and in the schools. These places are extremely important to us. Over and above the intellectual formation, the family and the school have to inculcate in children and young people the love of God, love of neighbour, love of country, respect for the common good, civic responsibility and patriotism. For the Church, education is a most urgent priority, as a result of which is the parish school, in which the Church can distribute the “bread of education” to the most disadvantaged children in the remotest areas of the country, where the State is absent. A great many priests and bishops have emerged from these schools – to which we should also add the schools run by the religious communities, which have a reputation of being the best in the country, and which are indeed the best. To tell the truth, we are making up for many of the deficiencies of the State, both in this and in many other areas.

 

For the Church, education is a most urgent priority, as a result of which is the parish school
“For the Church, education is a most urgent priority, as a result of which is the parish school”

 

At the same time we are engaged in many one-off programs to help our fellow citizens in difficulty. This is exactly what we have been doing for the victims of the recent earthquake on 6 and 7 October this year, helping to rebuild their homes and recover their psychological equilibrium.

The archdiocese of Cap-Haïtien owns over 80 hectares of good agricultural land, which we want to use in an environmentally friendly manner, in the spirit of the encyclical Laudato si’ of Pope Francis. The students at the faculty of agronomy at the UDERS in Cap-Haitien (a branch of the Université de Notre Dame de Haití) can carry out some important experimentational work there. Additionally, working this land can help to reduce unemployment, increase local production and persuade workers to stay at home and work to earn a living. The borehole we have on one of these pieces of land can provide water and this means that we have every possibility of success on our side. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis writes in his encyclical Laudato si’ that we must combat poverty via the protection of the environment. This is what we literally intend to do.

 

Do you have good relations with members of the other Christian groups?

We have good relations with Haitians of all Christian confessions. For some time now we have been accustomed to working together with them, and our relationship is based on the important values we share. This is particularly evident in the ecological field, because we share the same environment, and here we are all affected. Inspired by the publication of the encyclical Laudato si’, we organised a ceremony which brought together representatives of the Protestant communities, atheists and followers of voodoo. Ecology has no religion, it concerns us all!

Environmental problems frequently affect us here in Haiti and are a wake-up call. Our country is very vulnerable to natural disasters. However, I refuse to hear it called a cursed country. The Lord gave the earth to the children of Adam to till and cultivate it. Our happiness comes from something beyond, originating in the loving heart of the Creator. Geography alone cannot determine our happiness or unhappiness. On the contrary, we see ourselves as children blessed and loved by God.

 

We are a people who practise our faith. The churches are full and the clergy accompany people to help them live a Christian life and live their faith on a daily basis
“We are a people who practise our faith. The churches are full and the clergy accompany people to help them live a Christian life and live their faith on a daily basis”

 

What is the situation of the Church in Haiti?

We are a people who practise our faith. The churches are full and the clergy accompany people to help them live a Christian life and live their faith on a daily basis. We are fortunate in having many vocations. In our major national interdiocesan seminary we have 102 students in philosophy and 182 in theology. The future of the Church in Haiti, in terms of human resources, is well assured. The bishops of Haiti and the seminary formators are accompanying the seminarians and helping them to develop into priests who will work in harmony with the heart of God. The earthquake of 2010 destroyed the two buildings of the major seminary of Notre Dame of Haiti. Today the bishops are still seeking funds for the reconstruction of this national major seminary, all together in one place, which will cost 9 million dollars. We are seeking economic aid from various organisations and sister churches, episcopal conferences and dioceses, here and elsewhere, in order to make possible this project, which is currently one of the principal and most urgent priorities of the Church in Haiti. We still need 3 million dollars in order to be able to begin work on rebuilding this formation centre in 2019 – the project which the Haitian Bishops’ Conference regards as the first priority.

 

Would you like to say a few words to the benefactors of ACN?

Thank you, of course! Thank you for your donations, but thank you also for the visit by the representatives of ACN to Haiti, and to my archdiocese, to help us rebuild what was destroyed by the earthquake of 2010. We pray every day for the physical and spiritual health of the benefactors of ACN and for those working in your foundation. The reconstruction has still not been finalised and meanwhile, new misfortunes have befallen us. The Church in Haiti needs loving and generous hearts to support her pastoral and evangelising mission. We are most grateful to ACN for your great spiritual closeness and your effective and practical solidarity towards Haiti and the Church here.

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Que signifie pour vous cette visite ?

La visite du Pape nous remontera le moral, plus que toute autre chose. Tous les yeux de la planète seront dirigés vers Baghdeda. Le monde saura ainsi ce qui est arrivé à cette ville : les terribles destructions et la migration forcée. Ce serait également bien si nous recevions ensuite un peu plus d’aide et de soutien. Cette visite est très importante pour nous qui sommes ici, surtout après l’énorme migration forcée de tant des nôtres. Cette visite signifie que nous ne sommes pas seuls et qu’il y a des gens qui prient pour nous. Cela nous donnera de l’espoir, nous encouragera à rester dans notre pays et à ne pas le quitter.

Qu’aimeriez-vous dire au Saint-Père ?

Si j’ai l’occasion de le rencontrer, je voudrais le remercier pour sa visite qui nous rend très heureux, et pour ses prières. Je tiens également à le remercier pour toute l’aide qu’il nous a procurée ces derniers temps. Je n’oublie pas sa grande solidarité et le geste qu’il a fait en vendant aux enchères la Lamborghini qu’on lui avait donnée pour soutenir avec l’argent récolté la reconstruction de la plaine de Ninive. Je voudrais aussi qu’il continue à prier pour nous afin que la paix arrive en Irak.

Qu’aimeriez-vous lui montrer à Qaraqosh/Baghdeda ? Que devrait-il visiter ?

Je voudrais lui montrer l’église historique Al-Tahira et des photos de Baghdeda, je voudrais qu’il voie comment l’État Islamique l’a détruite et comment les gens d’ici ont eu le courage de la reconstruire.

¿Qué significa la visita para usted?
La visita del Papa levantará el ánimo y la moral, más que cualquier otra cosa. Todos los ojos del mundo se dirigirán a Baghdeda. Así, el mundo sabrá lo que le sucedió a esta ciudad. La terrible destrucción y la migración forzada. También sería bueno si luego recibimos más ayuda y apoyo. Esta visita es realmente importante para nosotros, los que estamos aquí, especialmente después de la enorme migración forzada de tantos de los nuestros. La visita significa que no estamos solos y hay quienes rezan por nosotros. Esto nos dará esperanza, nos animará a permanecer en nuestra tierra y no dejarla.

¿Qué le gustaría decirle al santo padre?
Si tengo la oportunidad de encontrarme con él: quiero agradecerle su visita, que nos hace muy felices, y su oración. También quiero darle las gracias por todo lo que nos ha ayudado durante el último periodo. No me olvido de su gran solidaridad y del gesto de subastar el Lamborghini para apoyar con ese dinero la reconstrucción de la llanura de Nínive. También quiero que siga orando por nosotros para que la paz llegue a Irak.

¿Qué le gustaría mostrarle en Baghdeda /Qaraqosh? ¿Qué debería visitar?
Quiero mostrarle la histórica iglesia Al-Tahira y fotos de Baghdeda, quiero que vea cómo fue destruida por ISIS y cómo la gente de aquí ha sido tan fuerte para reconstruirla nuevamente.

Was bedeutet der Besuch für Sie?
Der Besuch des Papstes wird die Stimmung und die Moral heben, mehr als alles andere. Alle Augen der Welt werden auf Baghdida gerichtet sein. Dann wird die Welt erfahren, was mit dieser Stadt passiert ist, die schreckliche Zerstörung und die erzwungene Migration. Es wäre auch gut, wenn wir anschließend mehr Hilfe und Unterstützung bekommen würden. Dieser Besuch ist wirklich wichtig für uns hier, besonders nach der großen Zwangsmigration so vieler unserer Leute. Der Besuch bedeutet, dass wir nicht allein sind, und dass es Menschen gibt, die für uns beten. Das wird uns Hoffnung geben, es wird uns ermutigen, in unserem Land zu bleiben und es nicht zu verlassen.

Was würden Sie dem Heiligen Vater gerne sagen?
Wenn ich die Gelegenheit habe, ihn zu treffen: Ich möchte ihm für seinen Besuch, der uns sehr glücklich macht, und für sein Gebet danken. Ich möchte mich auch bei ihm für alles bedanken, was uns in der letzten Zeit geholfen hat. Ich werde nie seine große Solidarität vergessen sowie die Geste, den Lamborghini zu versteigern (siehe Link zur Meldung), um mit diesem Geld den Wiederaufbau der Ninive-Ebene zu unterstützen. Ich möchte auch, dass er weiterhin für uns betet, damit im Irak Frieden einkehrt.

Was möchten Sie ihm in Baghdida /Karakosch zeigen? Was sollte er besuchen?
Ich möchte ihm die historische Al-Tahira-Kirche zeigen und Bilder von Baghdida, ich möchte, dass er sieht, wie alles von ISIS zerstört wurde und welcher Kraft die Menschen hier es wiederaufgebaut haben.

What does the Pope’s visit mean to you?
The papal visit will lift up our spirits and morale more than anything else. All the eyes of the world will be on Baghdeda. And in this way the world will know what happened to this city. The terrible destruction and the forcible ethnic cleansing. It will also be a good thing if afterwards we get more support and help. This visit is really important to us, to those of us who are living here, especially after the massive ethnic cleansing and expulsion of so many of us. His visit means that we are not alone and that there are people who are praying for us. This will give us fresh hope and encourage us to persevere, here on our own soil, and not leave it.

What would you like to say to the Holy Father?
If I get the opportunity to meet him, I would like to be able to thank him for his visit, which has made us very happy, and for his prayers. I would also like to thank him for all he has done to help us in recent times. I have not forgotten his great gesture of solidarity in auctioning the Lamborghini in order to use the money to help pay for the reconstruction of our homes on the Niniveh plains. I would also like to ask him to continue praying for us and for peace to return to Iraq.

What would you like to show him in Qaraqosh/ Baghdeda? Which places should he visit?
I would like to show him our historic Al-Tahira church, and some photos of Baghdeda. I’d like him to be able to see how it was destroyed by IS and how the people here have worked so hard recently to rebuild it once more.

Qu’est-ce que cette visite signifie pour vous ?

La visite du Pape est ce que nous désirions le plus ici. C’est une grande bénédiction. Nous avons un grand désir de le voir. Ce qui rajoute de l’importance à cette visite, c’est la situation de vulnérabilité que nous, chrétiens, subissons en Irak. Il y a plusieurs raisons à cette fragilité, toutes sont les séquelles de l’État Islamique. Toutes ces destructions ont grandement contribué à l’émigration des chrétiens. De nombreux problèmes pèsent sur nous. Mais par sa visite, le Pape nous donnera de l’espérance et de la confiance, il nous encouragera et réduira notre fardeau. Bien que la situation soit instable en Irak en ce qui concerne la sécurité, tout spécialement dans le domaine politique, on s’attend à ce qu’à l’arrivée du Pape, sa sécurité soit correctement assurée.

Qu’aimeriez-vous dire au Saint-Père ?

Je voudrais lui demander de me donner sa bénédiction, de bénir mon travail et le dévouement des prêtres d’ici, et de bénir le peuple par ses prières. Je voudrais lui demander d’aider tous ceux qui sont en danger dans ce pays, qu’ils soient chrétiens ou musulmans. Qu’il tente de mobiliser les pays du monde entier pour soutenir ce pays qui a besoin d’aide.

Qu’aimeriez-vous lui montrer à Qaraqosh/Baghdeda ? Que devrait-il visiter ?

J’aimerais qu’il visite l’église Al-Tahira, parce que c’est un symbole et un élément du patrimoine de Baghdeda. Cette église est la mère, le foyer et le patrimoine de chacun des habitants de Baghdeda. Nos ancêtres ont construit cette église, nous avons tous le sentiment d’en faire partie. Bien sûr, nous serions heureux qu’il visite de nombreux endroits, des églises, monastères et maisons traditionnelles, et qu’il rencontre également beaucoup de gens qui ont le désir de le voir.

¿Qué significa la visita para usted?
La visita del Papa es lo que más hemos deseado aquí. Es una gran bendición. Sentimos un gran anhelo de verlo. Lo que agrega importancia a esta visita son las condiciones tan vulnerables que sufrimos los cristianos en Irak. Hay varios motivos para esa fragilidad, todas las secuelas que ha dejado el ISIS, esa enorme destrucción ha llevado en gran medida a la emigración de cristianos. Muchos problemas pesan sobre nosotros. Pero cuando nos visite, nos dará esperanza, confianza y aliento y reducirá esta carga. Además del hecho de que la situación de seguridad en Irak, especialmente la política, es inestable, se espera que a la llegada del Papa se garantice su seguridad de manera correcta.

¿Qué le gustaría decirle al santo padre?
Querría pedirle que me dé su bendición, que bendiga mi servicio y la entrega de los sacerdotes aquí y que bendiga al pueblo a través de sus plegarias. Le pido que ayude a todos los que están en peligro en este país, ya sean cristianos o musulmanes. Que intente movilizar a los países del mundo para que apoyen a este país que necesita ayuda.

 ¿Qué le gustaría mostrarle en Baghdeda / Qaraqosh? ¿Qué debería visitar?
Me encantaría que visite la iglesia Al-Tahira, porque es símbolo y patrimonio de Baghdeda. Esta iglesia es madre, hogar y herencia de cada uno de los habitantes de Baghdeda. Nuestros antepasados ​​construyeron esta iglesia, todos nos sentimos parte de ella. Ciertamente, nos alegraría que visitara muchos lugares, iglesias, monasterios y casas tradicionales,  también que vea a muchas personas que anhelan verlo.

Was bedeutet der Besuch für Sie?
Der Besuch des Papstes ist das, was wir uns hier am meisten gewünscht haben. Es ist ein großer Segen. Wir spüren eine starke Sehnsucht, ihn zu sehen. Was diesen Besuch noch wichtiger macht, sind die äußerst prekären Bedingungen, unter denen wir Christen im Irak leiden. Es gibt mehrere Gründe für diese Zerbrechlichkeit. All die Folgen, die ISIS hinterlassen hat, diese enorme Zerstörung hat in großem Maße zur Auswanderung von Christen geführt. Viele Probleme lasten auf uns. Aber wenn er uns besucht, wird er uns Hoffnung, Zuversicht und Ermutigung geben und diese Last verringern. Auch wenn die Sicherheitslage im Irak, insbesondere die politische Situation, instabil ist, hoffen wir, dass bei der Ankunft des Papstes seine Sicherheit ausreichend gewährleistet ist.

 

Was würden Sie dem Heiligen Vater gerne sagen?
Ich möchte ihn bitten, mir seinen Segen zu geben, meinen Dienst und die Hingabe der Priester hier zu segnen und die Menschen durch seine Gebete zu segnen. Ich bitte ihn, all jenen zu helfen, die in diesem Land in Gefahr sind, ob sie nun Christen oder Muslime sind; und die Länder der Welt zu mobilisieren, um dieses Land, das Hilfe braucht, zu unterstützen.

Was möchten Sie ihm in Baghdida / Karakosch zeigen? Was sollte er besuchen?
Ich möchte, dass er die Al-Tahira-Kirche besucht, denn sie ist ein Symbol und Erbe von Baghdida. Diese Kirche ist die Mutter, die Heimat und das Vermächtnis eines jeden einzelnen Menschen in Baghdida. Unsere Vorfahren haben diese Kirche erbaut, wir alle fühlen uns als Teil von ihr. Sicherlich würden wir uns freuen, wenn er viele Orte, Kirchen, Klöster und traditionelle Häuser besuchen würde, und auch, wenn er viele Menschen treffen würde, die sich danach sehnen, ihn zu sehen.

What does the visit mean to you?
The papal visit is the thing we have longed for most of all here. It will be a great blessing. We have a great yearning to see him. What gives added importance to this visit is the so very vulnerable situation that we are suffering as Christians in Iraq. There are many reasons for this vulnerability, including the aftermath of what IS left behind, the enormous destruction which has led in such large measure to the emigration of the Christians. There are many problems weighing on us. But when he comes to visit us, he will give us new hope and confidence and some relief from this burden. In addition there is the fact that the security situation in Iraq, and especially the political situation, is so unstable, so we are hoping that when the Pope does arrive they will guarantee his security in the way that they should.

 

What would you like to say to the Holy Father?
I would like to ask him to give me his blessing, to bless my ministry and the hard work of all the priests here, and also to bless all the people through his prayers. I would ask him to help all those in danger in this country, whether they are Christians or Muslims. And that he might strive to encourage the countries of the world to support this nation, which is truly in need.

What would you like to show him in Qaraqosh/ Baghdeda? What places ought he to visit?
I would love him to visit the Al-Tahira church, because it is a symbol and a rich cultural legacy of Baghdeda. This church is the mother, the home and the inheritance of every one of the inhabitants of Baghdeda. Our forefathers built this church, and we all feel we are a part of it. Of course, we would be happy for him to visit many different places – churches, monasteries and traditional homes – and also for him to be able to meet all the many people who are longing to see him.

Que signifie pour vous cette visite ?

Elle a une valeur morale, et non pas économique. Cette question occupera l’opinion publique mondiale, et tout spécialement irakienne. J’ai l’impression d’y tenir une place importante.

 

Qu’aimeriez-vous dire au Saint-Père ?

Ce sera formidable de faire sa connaissance, et je voudrais lui dire : « Nous avons besoin d’une protection internationale parce que notre communauté chrétienne a subi une migration forcée ».

Qu’aimeriez-vous lui montrer à Qaraqosh/Baghdeda ? Que devrait-il visiter ?

J’aimerais lui montrer les églises et les maisons brûlées, afin qu’il voie les dégâts que l’État Islamique a laissés derrière lui dans cette ville. Et aussi notre Musée du patrimoine de Baghdeda pour lui présenter notre histoire et notre culture.

¿Qué significa la visita para usted?
La visita tiene un valor moral, no económico. Este tema ocupará la opinión pública en el mundo y especialmente en Irak. Siento que tengo un lugar importante en él.

 

¿Qué le gustaría decirle al santo padre?
Será genial conocerlo y querría decirle “necesitamos protección internacional, porque nuestra comunidad cristiana ha sufrido una migración forzada”.

¿Qué le gustaría mostrarle en Baghdeda /Qaraqosh? ¿Qué debería visitar?
Me gustaría mostrarle las iglesias y las casas quemadas, para que vea el daño que dejó ISIS en esta ciudad. Y también nuestro Museo del patrimonio de Baghdeda para presentarle nuestro historia y cultura.

Was bedeutet der Besuch für Sie?
Der Besuch hat einen moralischen Wert, keinen wirtschaftlichen. Er wird die öffentliche Meinung in der Welt und insbesondere im Irak beherrschen. Ich habe das Gefühl, dass ich einen wichtigen Anteil daran habe.

Was würden Sie dem Heiligen Vater gerne sagen?
Es wird großartig sein, ihn zu treffen, und ich möchte ihm sagen: „Wir brauchen internationalen Schutz, weil unsere christliche Gemeinschaft unter der erzwungenen Auswanderung gelitten hat“.

Was möchten Sie ihm in Baghdida /Karakosch zeigen? Was sollte er besuchen?
Ich möchte ihm die Kirchen und ausgebrannten Häuser zeigen, damit er den Schaden sieht, den ISIS in dieser Stadt angerichtet hat. Und auch unser Heimatmuseum in Baghdida, um ihm unsere Geschichte und Kultur näher zu bringen.

What does this visit mean to you?
This visit has a moral value rather than an economic one. This is a topic that will engage public opinion around the world and especially in Iraq. I feel as though I have an important part to play in it.

What would you like to say to the Holy Father?

It would be wonderful to be able to meet him, and I would like to be able to say to him, “We need international protection, because our Christian community was forcibly displaced.”

What would you like to show him in Qaraqosh/ Baghdeda? What places should he visit?
I would like to be able to show him the churches and houses that were burnt out, so that he could see the destruction left behind by IS in this city. And also our Baghdeda Heritage Museum, so that we can show him our history and culture.