Pope Francis (and most popes before him) encourages us to focus on mission and evangelization. Something I had perhaps forgotten over the years, but I’ve been reminded that the bottom line is this: our mission as Catholics and as Christians is to love our neighbor, near and far.
Haiti is a near neighbor. Not so close as those who live next door to us or those we see daily as we walk down the street, but Haiti is a short 90 minute flight from Miami. Though the distance is not great, it is a world of difference from here to there. Most often, people associate Haiti with its second name of “poorest country in the western hemisphere,” but in Baltimore we try to teach and continually learn a different association. An association of joy, faith, perseverance, and humility.
For more than a decade, youth, young adults, and adults from the Archdiocese have gone on mission to come to know individual Haitians and to serve them as they teach us in return. We return changed, viewing “the poor” as something more than a faceless mass. Instead, we see individual children named Tamara, Marie Christie, Samy, and Marc Raymond. These individual children teach us that there is joy without all the *stuff* we tend to rely on. They teach us that education is a privilege and an opportunity rather than an obligation. They teach us that faith is everything and that God is trustworthy despite daily struggles. They teach us that it’s actually ok to sing full volume in church! We go to Haiti equipped with craft supplies and prepared English lessons thinking that we’re going to serve them, but around mid-week each person starts to realize how much the Haitians are actually teaching us in turn. We start to gain a perspective that puts others at the center rather than ourselves and we learn to love first rather than to judge. Lessons and perspectives that I could benefit from daily.
Do we go on mission to share the love of Christ with those we encounter? Yes! But do we also grow in our understanding of what faith and love look like? Absolutely.
Haitians are Catholic by default but many don’t know that a personal relationship with Jesus is possible, let alone life-changing. Our partnered parishes have been able to form catechists so pastors can send them to the most remote spaces in the countryside to share the Good News. The dedication of these catechists is another inspiring aspect of this mission as some travel for hours on foot to reach these areas that are inaccessible to vehicles. With such an important goal, their motivation doesn’t waver. Meanwhile when I commute to the city through another snowy drive, I start to grumble… Perspective.
Dozens of parishes in Baltimore are partnered with parishes in our sister diocese in Haiti and hundreds of youth and young adults from around the entire state have tasted and seen that the Lord is good and that Haiti has much to teach us. These missionaries return to your parishes and schools with an energy to serve and with a perspective to share about our brothers and sisters—our neighbors—in Haiti who showed them love without asking a single question. The parishes who have partnered with counterparts in Haiti spread their missionary attitude to the entire parish to help serve as best they can.
To be a missionary one does not have to travel farther than one’s own household, but some of us are called to GO to all nations. We are continually amazed at how one simple week can change the life of your parishioners or students and how each visit continues to change us as well, not to mention the impact these individuals have on their communities, schools, and parishes upon their return.
What have you learned from serving? Where is your vocation calling you to go?
If you feel called to serve our neighbors in Haiti, parishes can partner with parishes and youth & young adults can apply for our annual summer trip that will take place this July. Whether or not you are called to GO, we are all called to serve and love our neighbors through prayer, so please continue to pray for our brothers and sisters in Haiti because mission matters… near and far! If you are interested in more information on either our parish partnership program or our mission trip, please contact Rachel at Rachel.firstname.lastname@example.org or at 410-625-8450.