Just When You Thought It Couldn’t Get Worse…
During the early morning hours of Monday, April 13, with Easter barely passed, the iconic, national church of Haiti, Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church in Milot, burned to the ground.
The local community watched in profound sadness and horror as the flames consumed Haiti’s centuries old symbol of national pride and their link to a dignified past.
While attempts to extinguish the inferno were unsuccessful, several brave residents did race into the burning parish and rescued statues and some pews. What remains of this treasured, UNESCO World Heritage site is a pile of rubble encircled by charred, skeletal stone walls.
If you have visited Milot or saw photos of the northern town, you would recognize the distinctive building that overlooked the village. She stood with grace and simple elegance as a tangible reminder of Haiti’s remarkable past that included the successful slave rebellion against Napoleon which turned Haiti into a free nation. Since being built in 1809, Immaculate Conception Church had remained the silent guardian of the people’s continuing indefatigable spirit and their constant hope and faith.
Immaculate Conception Church served as a place of solace, worship, community education and even historical events. The church provided local children with education and its necessary school lunch program. Within the church walls and on her grounds, the people’s minds, bodies and spirits were nurtured. The virus threat had already impacted church services, but the fire consumed an integral aspect of their daily lives.
Merely a few weeks ago, Haiti became one of the last countries in the world to witness COVID-19 cross its borders and significantly alter daily life. Already stressed with severe food shortages and increasing starvation of the general population, Haiti responded quickly with border closings, lock downs, social distancing and the redirection of its few factories to produce masks and other medical gear. Nearly every sewing machine in the country spun out some form of protective apparel. Like people across the globe, the Haitians cared for each other while living with increasing stress and even fear.
In times of disaster — or in this case, multiple disasters — national landmarks offer a bedrock of stability and hope. When the iconic Immaculate Conception Church went up in flames, people’s shock and grief compounded and their sense of vulnerability edged up several notches.
Upon visiting Milot, a former Haitian Prime Minister once noted three jewels in the crown of northern Haiti: The Citadelle, Immaculate Conception Church and Hôpital Sacré Coeur. The remains of the Citadelle, the oldest fort in the Western world, stands up the hill from the church in evidence of the battle for Haitian freedom. Hôpital Sacré Coeur — a critical healthcare provider and major regional employer — sits a short walk down the hill from the church. The life blood of Haiti’s past, present and future stand in a row. Now, Hôpital Sacré Coeur’s importance, as a center of healthcare excellence, sustenance and economic stability, carries the full mantel of the community’s hope for surviving a perilous present and safeguarding a brighter future.
Hôpital Sacré Coeur administration and staff prepared ahead of time to receive COVID-19 patients. As a result of their expertise with public health challenges, the hospital was designated as one of the few recommended COVID-19 treatment centers in the nation. In the past couple of weeks, patients have arrived and are being treated with excellent medical attention, dignity and respect. As the virus marches across the country, more patients are likely.
As Haiti approaches famine like conditions, Hôpital Sacré Coeur serves as a food distribution center with particular focus on children, the elderly and the disabled — all who are the most vulnerable to COVID-19. Hôpital Sacré Coeur medical staff, with your help, continues to treat those children and adults with severe malnutrition as well as other ailments and injuries.
Your generous financial support and your continued prayers have accomplished the seemingly impossible, time and time again. Every donation, volunteer visit and prayer touches the hearts and spirits of the beleaguered Haitians Hôpital Sacré Coeur serves. All are immensely grateful for your compassion and generosity. You demonstrate the best in human nature.
The caring you show those most in need genuinely inspires us. YOU give us all hope.
You are truly an unbroken lifeline and for that we cherish and honor you.
May God bless you and gently guide you through these trying days.
May you and your family stay safe and well.
YOU and YOUR family are always in our prayers.
With humility and gratitude,
Harold Prévil, M.D.
CEO, Hôpital Sacré Coeur
Sister Ann Crawley, C.S.J.P.
Hôpital Sacré Coeur Outreach
David G. Butler, M.D.
Chairman and Medical Volunteer