Haiti – Cap Haitien
History of the Mission
In response to the appeal of then Archbishop of Cap-Haitien, Monsignor Francois Gayot, two members of the Missionaries of the Poor set foot in this impoverished nation of 8.9 million people along the Caribbean’s Greater Antilles on February 6, 1994. Brother Eugene Damasusraj, an Indian national, and Brother Louima Israel, a native of Haiti, were the ones chosen for the task of taking over the administration of the Asile Communal, a home for the homeless and abandoned elderly located close to the heart of the city of Cap-Haitien which, up until then, was under the administration of Sister Madeleine Alarie of the Missionaries of the Immaculate Conception (MIC), headquartered in Quebec, Canada. Helped with a staff of 40 lay workers, Sister Madeleine was the lone Sister left from her Congregation to have run the Home. Having aged, and due to a lack of vocations to MIC, she felt she could no longer continue caring for some 150 elderly men and women whom she (and her Sisters earlier) cared for so lovingly for almost 50 years. Turning to the Bishop, Sister Madeleine recommended the Missionaries of the Poor, two of whose members she had met in Haiti—providentially it must be—on vocation promotions.
For almost four years, the first pair of MOP men sent on this Mission stayed at Domus Marie, a house lent to them by Monsignor Gayot. Each day, they drove over to the Asile to minister to its residents alongside with Sister Madeleine who stayed on for another 4 years to facilitate its smooth transition. In the meantime, the Brothers had begun laying the foundation for what would become their first monastery in Haiti. This soon-to-be born, and subsequently named, Monastère Bon Berger, was erected at a 3-acre land adjacent to the Asile that the Haitian Government had donated. By January 1998, the new monastery was completed and blessed, thus making it possible for the Brothers to move in. Around the same time, the move from MIC to MOP-administered Asile had also become definitive.
Renovations and Expansions
Since the Missionaries of the Poor took over the administration of the Asile, the Institute began to implement a number of renovation projects, which would have enhanced the quality of life of its residents. Among other things, it took care of repainting the building, fixing its roof (which had begun to leak by then), and changing of old beds and mattresses. Additional bathrooms and toilets were also installed, as well as ceiling fans for the residents. The garden on the Asile grounds was also developed.
With the help of Sister Madeleine, they also put up the Myriam Dispensary at the back of the Asile for the purpose of looking after the medical needs, not only of our homeless residents, but also of the poor at St Philomene neighborhood. To-date, this Dispensary caters to several patients from the same neighborhood and even across the city itself. A most recent feature to the Dispensary has been the presence of a local doctor who works in it at least once a week.
Through the kindness of friends from Moorestown, New Jersey, a pre-fabricated chapel was shipped to the Mission. This took place in early 2000. Shortly thereafter, they had the beautiful chapel standing majestically in front of the Asile building. Monsignor Gayot came and blessed it with the participation of a Delegate from our Mother House in Jamaica and also parishioners from Our Lady of Good Counsel in Moorestown who donated the building. What a blessing this chapel has been! Up until then, Asile residents were wont to gather along the Asile corridors for their Sunday Masses and prayer services. They now come together in this chapel with their own MOP priest to lead them in worship and are joined by hundreds others from all over the city Sunday after Sunday. In fact, Good Shepherd Chapel congregants have grown so large that Sunday Masses are standing room only, with many others having to sit on benches outside the chapel!
With the construction of the chapel also came baptisms, preparations for First Communions, and also funerals. Just over the past three years alone, more than three- dozen infants and children were baptized, while some 200 or so children received their First Communion. Around the same time, we also began to hold Food Lines in this chapel every other Wednesday. This outreach ministry has for its aim helping with food the many hungry people of Cap-Haitien. Initially, this program had about 100 regular beneficiaries. Today, it serves more than 500 individuals who would otherwise subsist only on one meal a day—if at all there is any! Thanks to the food packages they receive, which consist mainly in rice and beans, and sometimes flour, they can now eat at least more than once a day and also a few more days a week.
As the ministry expanded, and the needs in the country continued to increase, it was decided to put up a home for children with special needs as well as orphans. Bethlehem Home was thus begun in 2001 and was completed in 2002. From the initial intake of 20, it is now home to 53 children, many of whom are physically and/or mentally challenged, while the rest are normal kids but are either orphaned or abandoned. Of these normal ones, schooling is also offered. Sent to schools run by other religious, we hope to give them a solid educational foundation, which would assist them in the future.