November 1, 2013

Faith, Hope and Charity / David Siler

CCHD helps break cycle of poverty

David SilerMy parish, St. Matthew the Apostle in Indianapolis, has taken the exciting leap of faith to “twin” with a parish in Haiti.

St. Isidor, a newly established parish in the village of Bois de Lance just outside of the city of Cap-Haitien in the northernmost part of the island nation, is being pastored by a charismatic priest named Father Joel Thomas. Father Joel was called back to Haiti by his bishop after serving in France for 11 years.

I met Father Joel in July 2012 while traveling with some members of St. Bartholomew Parish in Columbus. Father Joel was just beginning his ministry in Bois de Lance, an area of about 21,000 people.

To say that the area is poor is redundant when one speaks about Haiti, but this area is very rural and, as such, offers no opportunities for employment. Nearly all of the residents of this village eke out a meager existence by farming small plots of land and raising cows, goats or chickens—the skinniest animals you have ever seen!

When Father Joel learned that my daughter, who traveled with me, and I were from a different parish than St. Bartholomew, which has a twinning relationship with St. Ann Parish in Limonade, Haiti, he seized the opportunity to express his desires for the members of St. Isidor Parish to develop a similar relationship. His passion for his people was infectious, and Amelia and I knew right away that St. Matthew Parish was going to be blessed with a new opportunity to serve.

Father Joel’s vision consisted of putting a new roof on his cinder block church, so that his people could worship without getting wet when it rains; building a rectory near the church so he didn’t have to drive an hour just to be with his parishioners; ensuring clean drinking water for the town; building pews for the congregation; and helping to provide financial support to families who cannot afford school for their children at the parish school—the only school around, meaning the children would receive no education otherwise.

As Father Joel laid out his vision, I could not help but think of the parishes in our archdiocese who are considering the construction of a second gym, or a new parish life center, or the replacement of their fully functional pews because they look a bit worn. I also was aware that some families back home can’t afford Catholic schools, but they do have tuition assistance, state-funded vouchers and public schools available to them.

In mid-July, our parish was blessed with a visit from Father Joel, who was in the United States to visit two of his sisters.

While further discussing plans for Bois de Lance, Father Joel casually mentioned that he would like to construct a “nutrition center” for very young children on the parish property because as he said “too many children are dying of starvation.” Our French translator, a fellow parishioner, and I had to pause as we wiped tears from our eyes, catch our breath and forge ahead with renewed vigor to ensure that no more children die of starvation.

We were deeply startled that the request to keep children from starving to death came so late in our conversation. It was disturbing to realize that starvation is just part of the landscape of Haiti. This is not acceptable.

With God’s grace, I know our parishioners and others will address this daunting challenge as we reach out in love to our brothers and sisters in faith at St. Isidor Parish.

(David Siler is the executive director of the archdiocesan Secretariat for Catholic Charities and Family Ministries. E-mail him at

Local site Links: