The seventh in a series, since 1986, of inter-conference meetings between the Haitian Episcopal Conference (CEH) and the NCCB/USCC took place on Wednesday, May 5, 1993 at USCC headquarters.
The CEH participants were Archbishop Franηois Gayot of Cap-Haitien, CEH President, Bishop Alix Verrier of Les Cayes, CEH Vice President, Bishop Emmanuel Constant of Gonaives and Bishop Joseph Lafontant, Apostolic Administrator of Port-au-Prince.
The NCCB/USCC participants were Archbishop Keeler (President, NCCB/USCC), Archbishop McCarrick (Chairman, Migration Committee), Bishop Tafoya (Chairman, Committee on the Church in Latin America), and Monsignor Lynch (General Secretary). Staff members from SDWP, MRS/PCMR, SLA, as well as CRS, also participated.
The Agenda followed was essentially that presented by the CEH General Secretary in advance of the meeting: (a) regulations for itinerant clergy, (b) the Haitian Apostolate, (c) human resources, (d) problems of integration, (e) financial aid for national projects, (f) diocesan twinning programs. Added to this from the US side were reports on refugee concerns and on present US policy regarding Haiti.
A brief record of the discussions follows:
1. Itinerant Haitian clergy. There is a perceived problem of Haitian priests and seminarians coming to the US without adequate screening or communication between the sending and receiving dioceses. There are some questionable Haitian candidates who come here with the understanding that it is easy to be accepted in US seminaries and become ordained.
Fr. Zendzian noted that, while there is yet no official policy regulating clergy transfers with Haiti (as there is with Mexico), the US bishops are seeking to regularize clergy transfers in general, whether within the US or from abroad. They seek to develop clergy exchanges in an orderly fashion, including formal contracts spelling out both obligations and benefits.
Archbishop Keeler noted that NCCB will alert our vocations offices on the seminary issue, and Archbishop McCarrick offered to meet with the CEH to set up norms for clergy exchange.
2. Haitian Apostolate. Fr. Zendzian said that progress has been made, and that Fr. Guy Sansaricq is doing a good job, but that more dialogue between NCCB and CEH on this issue is needed. Some $150,000 has been provided to the Haitian Center from US church entities, but funding continues to be a major problem. There is hope for funding from the collection for Black and Indian concerns.
3. CEH Re-structuring. The agenda item given as Human Resources reflected the Haitian bishops desire to learn more of the NCCB/USCC structures as the CEH goes about re-organizing various commissions. What cooperation, Archbishop Gayot asked, could they expect from NCCB/USCC in this task?
Msgr. Lynch replied that, while big is not necessarily better, CEH officers are welcome to come and observe the functioning of this Conference. He will also see that CEH receives ORIGINS, as well as newsletters from relevant offices. Fr. Emerson said that the Secretariat for Latin America would be happy to receive funding requests from CEH departments.
4. Financial resources. This led to further discussion of financial needs, but which Archbishop Gayot said was premature at this time; the CEH needs first to re-organize and prepare new budgets, and will then turn to NCCB for help. However, several specific needs were brought up:
- Seminary generators. A letter from the interim rector of the major seminary to Bishop Lafontant, asking help in finding new generators for the two seminaries (Cazeau and Turgeau), was presented. Because of the semi-permanent blackouts, the present small generators have been in constant use, repaired repeatedly, and are about to die.
- Radio Soleil. There is an active campaign against Soleil, both within Haiti (some charging it with having abandoned the people of Haiti and calling for it to be shut down) as well as in Europe. Misereor has said it would be very difficult to fund Soleil today. The Haitian bishops have had to subsidize the radio from their own funds ($3,000 for each two months) and thus issue an SOS for help over the next six months, until things stabilize. Fr. Ryscavage suggested the bishops bring this up with Amb. Pezzullo to see if USAID could help.
- Mission Alpha. The matter of CRS funding was raised; Msgr. Lynch will ask at the CRS Board meeting about the reasons for terminating the aid and prospects for future help.
- Publication of Pastoral Letter. Finally, assistance was asked for publishing the April 24, 1993 pastoral message of the CEH (which we had translated and made available at the meeting).
Archbishop McCarrick offered to work out a twinning relationship with Cap-Haitien, and Msgr. Lynch will note in a Friday mailing Bishop Verrier's interest in having a US diocese twin with Les Cayes.
6. Migration and Refugee Issues. Fr. Ryscavage reported that the US government has asked MRS to open a center in Cap-Haitien for refugee applications; similar centers in Port-au-Prince would be under Swiss direction, and in Cayes under World Relief, and they hope to start up within two weeks. Archbishop Gayot asked what criteria are used to determine political refugee status, noting that very few of those who claim such status are in fact political refugees. Fr. Ryscavage said that the criteria are very strict and that the majority of applicants will not be admitted.
Bishop Lafontant added that the best deterrent to leaving the country is economic development; the Haitian peasant is attached to his little plot of land and would not willingly leave it if he could survive economically. Fr. Ryscavage agreed, noting the importance of even a small development component in the proposed centers. He hoped the Haitian bishops would support the project, which Archbishop Gayot said they would be happy to do.
Fr. Ryscavage also reported on the efforts to bring the remaining 200 HIV-positive Haitians confined at Guantanamo to the US, within the next two months, and to help them apply for asylum.
7. US Haiti Policy. Ambassador Lawrence Pezzullo, newly appointed as special advisor on Haiti to the Secretary of State, had agreed to brief the bishops on the latest developments in negotiating the re-establishment of constitutional order, but was prevented at the last minute from coming, and was replaced by Mr. Joseph Becelia, regional director for Caribbean affairs at State.
Mr. Becelia began by recalling President Clinton's meeting with President Aristide (3/16), at which the US Administration made clear its determination to bring the present Haitian crisis to a swift resolution. The US is committed to the restoration of constitutional government, the return of Aristide, the re-building of the economy. The Church has a critical role to play in healing the divisions of that society, to press the need to look ahead, not back, to foster a climate of pacification and reconciliation.
Archbishop Gayot responded that the message is welcome, the same as the bishops have been saying since Aristide's inauguration, but which has caused them to be condemned by many who say the need is first for justice, not reconciliation. He asked Becelia if this reconciliation is an absolute condition of Aristide's return, in which case it will take a long time before that can happen.
Bishop Lafontant observed that most Haitians are tired of division and want reconciliation but, partly because of the people's illiteracy and their great misery, they can be easily manipulated by firebrands preaching revenge.
Archbishop Gayot said that indeed reconciliation must become the slogan of all--the UN, the OAS, the USG and the GOH--all must sing the same song; but, he added, there can be no reconciliation without alleviating poverty, and thus the embargo must go.
Msgr. Lynch asked Becelia to speak to the proposed US aid package of $1 billion over 5 years. At the time of the 1991 coup, US aid was about $85-90 million per year; the new program would raise it to $200 million and would go mainly to eliminating misery through job creation.
Archbishop Gayot had two final questions: How does the task of reconciliation fit in with the resolution of the various disputed issues (amnesty, selection of consensus Prime Minister and Cabinet, schedule for return, lifting the embargo, and a proposed "political truce"); in what order does each come? Becelia answered that all the pieces must be agreed on at least in principle before going ahead with any, that it's a dynamic process, that there is no time when reconciliation is complete but that the process must begin as soon as possible and last as long as necessary.
The second question: Who will be the messenger of Aristide's return and be in charge of managing it? Becelia replied that part of what is envisioned is aid to professionalize the police, separating them from the military, and that there must be guarantees for the security of all Haitians.