Pilgrimage to Haiti: “Why were you there?”

Consistently through the course of their time in Haiti, pilgrims reflected on how difficult it was to explain to friends and family — religious or otherwise — exactly what they would be doing in Haiti and why they were going. Frequent questions included, “Will you be building anything?” “Do you need to take anything down as a donation?” and “Why are you going to Haiti, of all places?” The trip to Haiti was neither service nor tourism, but a pilgrimage coordinated by The Episcopal Church and led by the Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus. [Editor’s note: Grace Aheron has written a reflection on the purpose of pilgrimage, and it is available here.]

One of the primary foci of the trip was to see the work that is being done in Haiti not only in the aftermath of the earthquake in 2010, but work that began long before and has continued despite obstacles. The Diocese of Haiti has started schools for the handicapped, schools for nursing, homes for elderly women, and schools and clinics in rural regions. On pilgrimage the pilgrims looked to see what was holy and set apart by God in what they saw each day. Their days were framed with reflections from the Desert Elders over breakfast and spiritual reflection on Biblical passages and their days in light of how they had seen God at work.

A final focus, especially important and helpful for the Diocese of California, was to learn from Haitian people what their needs are, rather than assuming that clothes needed to be donated or construction crews were needed to build more houses. The Diocese of California is committed to follow the lead and direction of the Bishop of Haiti as Californians ask how they may help rebuilding. Pilgrimage — looking for and seeing the holy around them — provided pilgrims the opportunity to hear directly from the bishops, priests, and laity how best to help going forward. Finally, this pilgrimage gave pilgrims answers for their friends and family about why they were there.