By Gary G. Yerkey
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has called on all Episcopalians to give generously to a fund aimed at assisting the Diocese of Haiti in rebuilding the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Port-au-Prince. Haitians are still struggling to recover from the massive earthquake that destroyed the cathedral and caused untold devastation to lives and property throughout the country four years ago.
The Haitian government has said that up to 300,000 people were killed in the magnitude 7.0 quake, which struck just west of the capital of Port-au-Prince on January 12, 2010. As many as 1.6 million Haitians, in a country of roughly 10 million, were left homeless, and more than 170,000 still live in makeshift housing.
“I ask that you share your blessings with the Haitian people,” Jefferts Schori said, adding that the “spiritual heart” of the church’s ministry in Haiti centers on the cathedral. She said the diocese’s ministry comprises more than 170 congregations and 250 schools, a dozen clinics and two hospitals.
This year the anniversary of the earthquake falls on the first Sunday after Epiphany, when the church celebrates the Baptism of Our Lord, depicted in one of the three murals that survived the quake from the old cathedral. Haitian artist Castera Bazile painted the murals in 1951.
Haitian President Michel Martelly said on January 1, the 210th anniversary of the nation’s independence from France, that Haitians must unite to rebuild their country, the poorest in the western hemisphere.
“Haiti is sick,” Martelly said in a televised address. “Getting Haiti back on its feet takes the effort and help of all of its children. I call on you to join forces and unite to work to meet the challenges that await us in 2014.”
After the earthquake four years ago, the Episcopal Church was quick to commit itself to helping rebuild the historic Holy Trinity Cathedral, launching a major fundraising campaign. Its Executive Council voted in February 2010 to work toward raising $10 million toward the cost of the new structure. Roughly $2.5 million was raised during a grassroots campaign called Rebuild Our Church in Haiti.
Thomas L. Kerns of Kerns Group Architects in Arlington, Virginia, which was selected to oversee the design of the new cathedral last October, said at an Executive Council meeting that the cathedral project would require at least $21 million but that the figure could rise to $25 million. He said the new building will be constructed in three phases. The first phase, building the main worship space, will cost $15 million.
Kerns said the design of the cathedral presumes a series of aspirations, including respect for and celebration of the Episcopal Church in Haiti, the Haitian people, and their culture; that the cathedral will serve as a prominent landmark of “God’s abiding presence” and the church’s commitment to service; respect for the design of the former cathedral destroyed in the quake; leanness and smartness, as well as humility, hospitality, flexibility and self-sufficiency.
The new cathedral, to be built on the same site as the previous structure, will comprise three integrated elements: a welcome space that includes a garden and the narthex; an in-the-round liturgical/cultural/performance space with a balcony and side chapels, which can accommodate 1,200 people; and a revenue-producing hospitality space with meeting rooms, along with diocesan offices. It will be built to international hurricane- and earthquake-resistant standards, and will produce its own electricity and potable water.
Jefferts Schori observed in an Episcopal Church press release that the music school at the cathedral hosts the only philharmonic orchestra in the country, as well as several internationally recognized choirs.
“The Haitian people give glory to God through many art forms — music, dance and liturgy, which the cathedral continues to bless and celebrate,” she said. “Rebuilding the cathedral offers hope not only to Episcopalians but to the nation as a whole — a sign that God is present, that God continues to create out of dust, and that God abides in the spirit of his people.”
Donations may be sent to the Episcopal Church’s Development Office at 815 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10017. Checks should be made payable to the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society and designated for Holy Trinity Cathedral.