Left to right: Katryèm (U.S. 9th grade) student, Orlando Pierre Dulièpre paints the flag of Granada; Students add details to flags with intricate designs; Fr. Carl Jean, C.S. (LCS class of 2002) distributes communion to students and Volunteers at Mass on the feast of Our Lady of Fatima.
This week, in honor of the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, we were fortunate to have Fr. Carl Jean, C.S. (LCS class of 2002) say Mass for the community.
In preparation for graduation, we have repainted the flags of America on the walls of a building in the center of campus. This provides a visual context for the historical and regional importance of Haiti to all the nations of the Western Hemisphere. Many years ago, we prepared a guide called "America is One" to help groups prepare for coming to Haiti. Below is the selection introducing the concept of America as one from Saint John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation, Ecclesia in America, followed by my own reflection on his words.
In Santo Domingo, when I first proposed a Special Assembly of the Synod, I remarked that “on the threshold of the third Christian millennium and at a time when many walls and ideological barriers have fallen, the Church feels absolutely duty-bound to bring into still deeper spiritual union the peoples who compose this great continent and also, prompted by the religious mission which is proper to the Church, to stir among these peoples a spirit of solidarity.” I asked that the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops reflect on America as a single entity, by reason of all that is common to the peoples of the continent, including their shared Christian identity and their genuine attempt to strengthen the bonds of solidarity and communion between the different forms of the continent’s rich cultural heritage. The decision to speak of “America” in the singular was an attempt to express not only the unity which in some way already exists, but also to point to that closer bond which the peoples of the continent seek and which the Church wishes to foster as part of her own mission, as she works to promote the communion of all in the Lord.
St. John Paul II, Ecclesia in America," #5
For most of us who were born and have been raised in the United States, embracing John Paul II’s vision of One America and One Church of America will require “unloading” the more popularly accepted, media-driven perception that the United States is unique among its regional neighbors, a veritable Tigger among far more similar countries. We are surprised when the leaders of Central American or South American countries, especially in critical comments about NAFTA, refer to Mexicans, Canadians and U.S. Americans collectively as North Americans. How much more progressive to view the entire hemisphere as a people of common heritage? To soothe our exceptionalist egos, we are tempted to say to ourselves, “Well, if we do share commonalities, it is just because the other countries are U.S. wannabes.”
Our “exceptionalism” is equally the result of our exposure to overly positive images of the U.S. promoted by zealous patriots as it is a consequence of the negative images often promulgated by “self-deprecating” anti-U.S. U.S. Americans. It is true that the United States is exceptional in the Western Hemisphere in many categories: population, economic market share, percentage of college-educated people, per capita income, literacy rate, consumption of natural resources, percentage of obesity. But are these truly significant qualifications for being different? How different is a ten-gallon bucket of water from a five-gallon bucket of water or even a gallon bucket if the water in all three buckets comes from a common origin? How much less the difference if the large bucket is increasingly dependent on the contents of the smaller buckets for its volume?
Analogies provide quick understanding; however, to really accept the validity of John Paul II’s vision, we need to explore the geographical, ethnic, cultural, theological, economic and social basis of his assertion that the Western Hemisphere is, partly in reality and even greater in potentiality, one continent, one people and, for Catholics, one Church. While we do not want to be naive in our approach or gloss over the political, class, ethnic, and racial dimensions in and among the countries of this hemisphere, it is practical for those in search of solidarity to look first for commonality, not differences. It is far easier to achieve solidarity with people we see as ourselves rather than others.
As John Paul the Great points out, it is in the spirit of communion -- sacramental solidarity -- that we can best work through the issues that separate us such as poverty, illiteracy, politics, trade, and race. With this in mind, let us work together to raise our awareness of the particular issues Haiti faces today and to inspire in ourselves the courage to work together as one Church to solve them.