2/2/2012 10:01:00 AM OUTREACH Chatham parish
'twins' with Haiti
Students at the Haitian school that St. James parish helps
Since the Albany Diocese's "Amazing God" evangelization initiative began, St. James parish has also done local outreach: Last Easter, a team distributed greeting cards to Mass-goers. Before the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, Rev. Gary Gelfenbien, pastor of St. James, also sent handwritten notes to fallen-away parishioners, along with invitations to feast day Masses. At Christmas, the parish mailed a worship schedule to inactive members.
The parish family of St. James in Chatham has reached across an ocean to help fellow Catholics.
Parishioners donated about $3,000 to support a new sister parish in a rural town in northeastern Haiti. Many have already offered to stage a talent show and involve parish ministries and community organizations in future fundraisers.
The Haiti parish, St. Cecile, is one of the smallest, poorest and most remote in the Archdiocese of Cap-Haitien. Residents of the area live in homes with thatch or tin roofs and no running water or electricity. Families earn about $60 annually by selling produce from small plots of land.
The parish school supports 842 children. It was neglected after almost three years without a parish pastor, so the building needs repair. St. Cecile's priest, Rev. Andre Augustin, oversees the school and the distribution of medicines and healthcare equipment.
Father Augustin began construction on a health center last year. St. James parish is committed to helping the priest pay teachers and fund the health center.
To circumvent the corruption that can divert funds from their intended recipients in Haiti, donations will be sent directly to the Parish Twinning Program of the Americas, which connected St. Cecile and St. James.
Pat Dieffenbach, co-coordinator of the twinning project at St. James along with Patty Bowes, said the parish chose twinning as opposed to sending money to a charitable organization because it allows parishioners to develop a relationship with the people they're helping and to understand another lifestyle.
"It's almost like being a missionary," she said.
The Parish Twinning Program of the Americas has forged more than 340 linkages between parishes in the U.S. or Canada and parishes in Haiti and elsewhere. Since the late 1970s, parishes have sent more than $22 million in aid to sister churches.
Father Augustin has to travel more than 170 miles from St. Cecile's to coastal Cap-Haitien in order to email St. James parishioners. He speaks English, but most of his people speak Creole.
Parishioners at St. James plan to recruit Haitian-Americans in Chatham and Hudson to help them correspond with the Haitian Catholics. Already, local parishioners have responded to the appeals for donations with enthusiasm.
The Haitian parish is "in our hemisphere" and "it's very poor," Ms. Dieffenbach said, noting that Catholics need to reach out: "It's a big world, and there's more than just here. Hopefully, this will go on for a number of years and we will learn from this."