David and Kathy Lopez say their recent delegation trip to Haiti was life changing, leading the couple to share their experience with their parish community at Holy Trinity in El Dorado Hills. Courtesy photo

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Holy Trinity shows heart for Haiti

By From page A1 | July 27, 2016

When Holy Trinity Catholic Church parishioners David and Kathy Lopez decided to join Holy Family Church’s outreach visit to Haiti in May, one of them was more enthusiastic about going than the other.

They would visit Father Tom Hagan, who founded Hands Together in 1986 after leading a group of college students to Haiti and felt compelled to respond to the needs of the poor there. Hagan left his post as Catholic Chaplain of Princeton University and moved to Port-au-Prince in 1997. Since then Hands Together has become a vital organization in Haiti’s largest and poorest slum, Cite Soleil, feeding 25,000 people a day and employing hundreds of residents with service-oriented jobs. The non-profit organization includes eight school campuses where children are given a free education and receive a daily hot meal. Hands Together has also built a free clinic and elderly outreach and housing program.

Though Holy Trinity parishioners have sent financial aid to Hands Together for years, no one from Holy Trinity had visited until David and Kathy.

“Every time I have heard Father Tom Hagan speak about his work in Haiti, I have been mesmerized,” Kathy said. “I had never traveled to a developing country, I had never seen real poverty and I had never done real mission work. Father Tom’s stories of his work were inspiring, to say the least, and I longed to be a part of it. So when I saw an e-mail about the delegation trip, I knew I was supposed to go.”

Yet Kathy said she knew her husband well and didn’t think he’d want to go.

“If you know David at all, you have to know that traveling to the poorest slum in the western hemisphere, where we would have no hot water and would need to get all sorts of vaccines to keep from getting malaria and other various diseases, was way out of his comfort zone,” she explained. “But he couldn’t let me go alone.”

“Kathy was right,” David said. “Haiti was about the last place in the world I wanted to go.  I’m a Hyatt hotel guy … I’d seen the photos from Haiti. It looked hot, dirty and smelly. I reluctantly said I’d go with her — and then promptly complained about it for the next two months.”

As soon as they stepped off the plane, David said his expectations were met.

“We walked out of the airport to sweltering heat and oppressive humidity,” he said. “We were met by Father Tom and his dog, Weedoor, who was as dirty and smelly as I expected Haiti to be. We boarded a small Hands Together bus and drove through the dirty, smelly, overwhelmingly poor streets of Port-au-Prince. All along the way young Haitian men approached the bus, beating on the windows, begging for food or money or a job. We drove on pot-hole-filled dirt streets, filled with abandoned, rusted-out cars and wild pigs and goats, eventually arriving at the metal-reinforced gates of the Hands Together compound … where two shotgun-armed guards stood watch as they do 24 hours a day.”

All David said he could think was, “What the heck had Kathy gotten me into?”

Run by armed gangs of young men, Haiti has many times been declared the most dangerous place in the world by the United Nations. Life expectancy is only 57 years there and 60 percent of the population survives on less than $1 a day. Only 25 percent of people receive any kind of vaccinations and 75 percent have no access to safe water.

“The figures for poverty in the areas we visited — where Father Tom Hagan’s Hands Together does its work — are even worse,” David said. “Cite Soleil is an area in the city of Port-au-Prince where 300,000 people live in one square mile and there are three times as many rats as there are people.”

In Cite Soleil only 50 percent of children live to age 5.

“Cite Soleil is basically a giant garbage dump,” David explained. “We were overcome by the squalor, the garbage, the smell, the raw sewage running between the homes. It was something most of us will never experience and it’s a way of living most of us cannot even really imagine.”

They visited an orphanage that housed 150 children. While there David and Kathy said they were profoundly moved and felt called to action.

“You and I might agonize because our child didn’t get the teacher we wanted or because our iPhone screen cracked,” David said. “The Haitians agonize over things that really matter, but despite their hardship the people are joy-filled and unbelievably grateful, but this doesn’t provide health care, proper nutrition or education.”

After five days in Haiti David was clear on what his wife had gotten him into. “Perhaps the most life-changing experience of the second half of my life,” he said.

They have been sharing their story since they returned home to small groups and to full Masses, leading the parish to declare a “Year for Haiti,” naming the effort “Se Posib” — “It’s Possible” in the Haitian language of Creole.

“We know it’s possible for us to make a real, tangible, significant difference in the lives of our Haitian neighbors,” David said.

During the next 12 months the parish will explore ways to help Haiti. Some ideas already include shipping supplies — backpacks, athletic shoes and medical supplies. Holy Trinity School students will make art work for the Hands Together classrooms, asking for artwork back for their classrooms. Father Tom and Executive Director Doug Campbell will visit El Dorado Hills this fall. In spring 2017 Holy Trinity will host its first delegation trip to Haiti to see Hands Together in action.

Holy Trinity will host its seventh annual Human Concerns Barbecue from 6:30 to 9 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 6, in the church’s social center to benefit local and global neighbors in need, including Hands Together. In addition to entertainment, a raffle and silent auction, a full fiesta-themed dinner will be served. Prizes will be awarded for best fiesta-themed dressed.

Tickets are $13 per adult, $7 per child or $45 for a family of five or more. Visit holytrinityparish.org to purchase tickets. You may also donate by mailing a check to Holy Trinity Parish, 3111 Tierra De Dios Drive, El Dorado Hills 95762. Specify Human Concerns Ministry in the memo line.

Most of the Human Concerns Ministry funds raised go to local outreach efforts and work in partnership with organizations including SHARE, Upper Room and Food Bank of El Dorado County. Nearly half of funds go to global causes, including Hands Together and parishioners’ Joe and Julianne Kurowski’s financial and emotional support of Kenyan orphans.

Julie Samrick

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