CNS PHOTO | COURTESY CATHOLIC RELIEF SERVICES
Residents of Petite Place Cazeau camp for Haitians displaced by the January 2010 earthquake load a truck with belongings in December as they move to a new permanent home.
In a Lenten letter inviting Catholics to contribute generously to this year's Share Lent campaign, Archbishop Richard Smith also urged those with any concerns about overseas projects to contact the conference.
"For Catholics in Canada, the annual Share Lent Collection offers a special opportunity to hear the cry of the poor and to reach out to those in need," Smith wrote in a Feb. 9 letter in his role as president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB).
"A few months ago, I was part of a solidarity visit to Haiti, organized by the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (CCODP).
"It was a moving experience. Time and time again, we met those whose lives had been crushed under the weight of poverty and oppression, but now are able to find new dignity and hope," he said.
The CCCB has posted extensive reports about the Dec. 14-21 visit to Haiti at www.cccb.ca under the Media Room menu.
It includes a detailed report entitled Challenges and Opportunities in the Reconstruction of Haiti: Summary of Observations that Smith wrote to his brother bishops describing the dire plight of the Haitian people.
It also outlines the progress made with the help of $20 million in Canadian Catholic aid dollars through CCODP and its Caritas partners.
Smith's report describes the horrendous poverty the Haitian people experienced even before the 2010 earthquake killed more than 316,000 people, injured another 300,0000 and left 1.1 million homeless.
Two years later, Smith said 600,000 Haitians were still living in tents, and huge efforts had yet to be made in removing rubble from urban areas.
The annual Share Lent fundraising drive raises about 30 per cent of the budget of CCODP.
However, each year since 2009, the campaign has been marred by a Lenten surprise in the form of negative online reports that have raised concerns about CCODP partners variously described as "pro-abortion," "feminist" or pro-contraception.
Smith's detailed report to the bishops stressed: "No Haitian bishop or representative of a Haitian Church agency during the December 2011 solidarity visit raised any question or doubt about the partners and programs in which Development and Peace is involved."
His Lenten letter referred to the ongoing process of renewal CCODP under the bishops' guidance that began after Pope Benedict issued his encyclical Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth) in July 2009.
"The journey of faith and conversion includes many moments when we see a need to improve and renew society, the community of faith, and ourselves individually," Smith wrote. "Development and Peace is well aware it too must adapt and improve."
The Canadian bishops, he recalled, have set up a standing committee to help CCODP in its own journey of renewal, he said.
"If Canadian Catholics have concerns about the effectiveness or appropriateness of Development and Peace activities, they can send their questions to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops."
Smith emphasized, "As followers of the Lord Jesus, we must always keep before us the faces and lives of the impoverished and marginalized.
"These are our brothers and sisters whom we can so easily overlook and forget. This is the ministry the bishops of Canada entrusted to Development and Peace 45 years ago: to help the Church in Canada and each of its members accompany, assist and remember the poor."
In a reference to Pope Benedict's Lenten message, Smith focuses on the pope's reflection on the word "scrutinize."
"The Lord tells us to scrutinize and be concerned about the log in our own eye, not the speck in our neighbour's eye (Luke 6.41)," Smith said. "Be concerned for one another, the Holy Father tells us. Don't be isolated, indifferent or disinterested in your brothers and sisters."
He quotes the pope who says: "Our hearts should never be so wrapped up in our affairs and problems that they fail to hear the cry of the poor."
"Reach out to others," Smith added." Open your hearts to their needs."