Everybody has heard the news and seen the images. So little has been done in the 12 months since the earthquake. The NGOs are all in place, there is money in the bank to move ahead rapidly with reconstruction, but the whole country is in a state of paralysis. A lack of stable infrastructure and deep-rooted corruption are responsible for the stalemate. Money that is released into the community for reconstruction will disappear into the wrong hands, hence the slow progress.
We are delighted to report that we have been able to send out £6,500 to the Claretians in
Port au Prince to help with the reconstruction of their Elementary School. It is but a drop in the ocean in terms of what their actual needs are, but every little will help. And the donations keep trickling in. View this short video about the destruction of the earthquake and what the Claretians are achieving 12 months later:
I have been invited to speak about my cycle pilgrimage to Rome by several groups, which gives me the opportunity to both advertise the delights of travelling along the Via Francigena, but also to highlight the current situation in Haiti and keep their cause alive in people’s minds. Groups that I will be visiting in the next few months include: Kimbolton Rotary, Ferrar House at Little Gidding, Kimbolton Probus, Rockingham Forest Wheelers, and the Confraternity of Pilgrims to Rome.
Some local radio producers scour the local press for leads, which is exactly what Sarah did at BBC Radio Cambridgeshire. She came across the aforementioned items in the Huntspost and rang me to invite me to feature on their early Sunday morning programme, which was generally devoted to topics connected with Faith and Ethics. The last time I had been interviewed by local radio was after my ride to Santiago de Compostela in 1993, but that had been conducted by telephone. This time I was invited to sit in a studio, surrounded by the infinite gadgetry that produces the exquisitely programmed sequences of interviews and music that our domestic radios so effortlessly emit. Kevin was my expert host, and he deftly asked several good questions to allow me to expand a little on my pilgrimage experience.
“Tell us about the situation in Haiti”……..”and the money you have raised for the Claretians”………”What were the high points of your cycling experience?”………”Did you have any punctures?”………….”How did your body hold out?”……………..”Is the money earmarked for a specific project?”.
Afterwards, as you would expect, instead of focusing on the things I had been able to say, I thought about all the things I had wanted to say but never got the chance. But that’s the nature of the beast……………
Arriving back home and settling back into domesticity always requires some adjustment after such a venture. Even harder if you spend 80-90 days walking the route, and the rhythms of the daily schedule are much more ingrained in your psyche.
My journey has roused some local interest, especially in the press, and this has led to an invitation by BBC Radio Cambridgeshire to feature on their Sunday morning programme (October 17th) at 8.20am. I see this as a great opportunity to spread the word about the Via Francigena, and help promote it as one of the great European journeys where you can enjoy a sense of community as you travel along and associate with other pilgrims.
And you don’t have to do it as a single journey, from Canterbury to Rome. Why not try sections, as time permits. Everybody is subject to myriad commitments, so why not cherry-pick a couple of especially interesting sections and do them when you can? To qualify for the Testimonium at the end, walkers only need to complete 100kms, and cyclists 200kms. This could easily be completed in a week, allowing a couple of days to enjoy Rome.
There are more than 3000 members of the community working in over 60 countries of the world. The principal focus of their mission is to spread the Christian message, but this labour is inevitably tied up with important humanitarian concerns. In the field of education, for example, they build new schools, and refurbish and repair exisiting schools. These same schools will be furnished and equipped, usually through voluntary contributions. They frequently provide access to medical care, and will assist remote communties to improve their access to basic services.
The Claretians in Haiti have spent several years establishing themselves in Port-au-Prince. Quoting recent correspondence from Haiti, here is a glimpse of the aftermath of the quake:
“The vast majority of concrete structures had completely collapsed……… huge cracks which would hardly stand another aftershock marred the house structure. In fear of the house’s instability, people were sleeping outside on the patio, along with a few acquaintances and neighbours who had lost everything…….. We are in deep trouble,
many deaths, bodies scattered everywhere, houses crumbled with people still inside……. Every time I go out and see the city I ask myself: Am I dreaming or is what I see true? Is this the Port-au-Prince that I have known? But it is not a dream; it is a reality……….. The ten-year-old church and the public elementary school that the Claretians helped to build were destroyed”.
I was briefed to translate some of this correspondence as it came out of Haiti just 48 hours after the earthquake. I was deeply moved by their plight, and now I would like to raise as much as I can to help them re-establish the infrastructure of their work in Port au Prince.
Many years awheel exploring the world, I am now addressing the most ancient of routes in Europe: the Via Francigena. First walked by St Augustine in 598 when he went to Rome to receive the pallium (his seal of office as the first Archbishop of Canterbury), it has recently been re-established using the travel notes of Archbishop Sigeric in 990 (one of the early bloggers!). Although I will have the benefit of a pair of wheels for my journey, carrying my pilgrim’s credential (passport) I will qualify for the official ‘testimonium’ given to pilgrims when they arrive at St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
Following ancient routes, especially routes of religious and historical significance, has always been a passionate interest of mine. My forthcoming journey along the Via Francigena comes in the wake of several other long journeys, including the ancient Camino de Santiago de Compostela. So why am I doing it? Is it just for the sheer pleasure of completing it? Well, partly, but also read below:
January 12th saw Haiti (the poorest country in the west) suffer its most devastating earthquake. 230,000 died, along with 300,000 injured. The 6 month anniversary of the quake has reminded us of the continued desperation of the situation.
For many years, we have supported the humanitarian efforts of the Claretian Missionaries in Belize. But on this one occasion, our attention deservedly shifts to the people of Haiti in their time of need. The Claretians in Haiti have spent several years building the infrastructure of their future work, which included an elementary school, which was completely destroyed. The money we raise through this venture will go directly to helping to rebuild this school.
Cycle pilgrimage: Kimbolton-Canterbury-Rome (1300 miles)
I will be setting off on August 29th, and hope to arrive in Rome about 18 days later. Much more than a cycle ride, this will be a genuine attempt to follow the route established 1400 years ago. I will be passing through places of historical connection, seeking to have my ‘credential’ (pilgrim’s passport) stamped and signed along the way, in order to qualify for the testimonium at journey’s end.
(I can now report that, at the end of all the fund-raising, we have been able to send £6,500 to help rebuild the Claretian Elementary School in Port-au-Prince. If you contributed to that amount, a sincere ‘thank you’ for your support)