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Churches hope ties bring help to Haiti

St. John's volunteers visited Haiti's St. Mathias school

St. John's volunteers visited Haiti's St. Mathias school in December 2011 after they raised $5,000 that is being utilized to build new classrooms. Credit: Handout

Thousands of Long Islanders Thursday will break bread and share what they are most thankful for with their families and loved ones.

Only a few days ago a group of friends, some old and some new, did just that as part of a budding partnership between a church in Cold Spring Harbor and another in Haiti.

Representatives from both Episcopal churches enjoyed a hearty breakfast in the rectory of St. John's Church in Cold Spring Harbor. The Rev. Jean Jeannot Joseph, 53, traveled about 1,500 miles from his home in Haiti to visit the parish, which began partnering about a year ago with one of his churches' schools in Delandes, St. Mathias.

This is the second trip involving the two churches -- a group of three from St. John's went to Haiti in December.

Millions of dollars in aid have been pledged to Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, especially since the 2010 earthquake. But Haitians still struggle to get food, education and health care.

"Haiti is a very poor country . . . good will is not enough," Joseph said. "We also need money and that's why we look for help everywhere."

This new partnership hopes to help with that. So far, St. John's has donated money to help build two classrooms at St. Mathias. But this isn't just about opening wallets. Both groups want to do much more to create a partnership that will last for decades, and visits to the two countries are one way to deepen connections.

"We are beginning a relationship, a friendship," said Joseph, who oversees 18 churches and schools. "It is another way to serve God, to love one another and to share life."

"Nothing is more important that developing a real relationship," said the Rev. David Ware of St. John's, who went on the December trip.

The National Association of Episcopal Schools raised money to bring Joseph and four other Haitian priests to the United States for a conference. Afterward, Joseph came to Cold Spring Harbor. He preached at Sunday's Masses.

Ware said, after last weekend's activities, he heard many people sharing the same sentiment: "to establish a partnership that outlives all of us."

"I was really so blessed," Joseph said, after meeting more people from the church.

Laura Swiggett of St. John's, who went on the trip to Haiti, said, "This is really a two-way partnership."

A third trip is slated for January when church members again will visit St. Mathias. A group of nine from St. John's departs on Jan. 11.

Swiggett said when her group left, their new Haitian friends told them not to forget them, and that they will be waiting for them.

"I think we have really used this as a reminder . . . that they wait for us and we wait for them," she said.

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