LATIN AMERICAArchbishop Hubert Constant, OMI: 1931-2011
On the morning of September 23, 2011, Archbishop-emeritus Hubert CONSTANT of Cap-Haïtien, Haiti, died at a hospital in Port-au-Prince. He had entered the hospital on September 10 to be treated for a heart condition and had been released on September 21.
Archbishop Constant was born in 1931 and pronounced his first vows as an Oblate in 1955. He was ordained a priest in 1958. Pope John Paul II called him to shepherd the newly formed diocese of Fort-Liberté in 1991 where he served until his appointment to the archdiocese of Cap- Haïtien in 2003. He retired in 2008.
Before becoming a bishop, he had a wealth of experience as pastor, teacher, administrator and religious leader. After his ordination to the priesthood, he served in parishes in the dioceses of Cap-Haïtien, Les Cayes and Port-au- Prince. He was teacher and later director of the Saint-Eugène de Mazenod minor seminary in Camp-Perrin and then director of the “College Saint-Jean” in Les Cayes (1979-1981). In 1981, he became the first Haitian-born Provincial of the then Vice-Province of Haiti, serving two three-year terms in that capacity. He was subsequently superior of the Oblate scholasticate for four years before his appointment as bishop of Fort-Liberté. From 1999 until 2005, he also served as president of the Haitian Bishops’ Conference.
During the 2004 uprising against the regime of then President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Archbishop Constant was the spokesperson for the Catholic Bishops of Haiti in calling for calm and respect for human lives. At that time, he wrote: “It is not the place of the Church to say which actions should be undertaken.” He added: “But something must urgently be done to stop the violence… The bloodshed has already begun.”
The appeal also contained an exhortation to all Haitians: “to respect the life of each human being, the moral integrity of the people, everyone's right to liberty, true information, and the constitutional right to express themselves and demonstrate in a respectful and peaceful manner.”
In November of 2004, he addressed the General Assembly of the Conference of Bishops of France. He told them: “One painful thing that I would like to mention is the condition of so many children reduced to dehumanizing living conditions. Who are they? Street children, children who live as servants, girls and increasingly many younger girls who are used in prostitution circles, children used for the sale of drugs or as objects of shady transactions at the Dominican border. In the midst of this disorder, one wonders where the future of our families is. How will the children, the young people and the adults of today discover tomorrow a sense of duty and responsibility?
“Our heart still bleeds to see these situations of insecurity, impunity, corruption, of excessive exploitation for money and power, and the masquerade of justice continue in our country”
Shortly after his perpetual vows, Brother Patrick OLIVEIRA URIAS wrote a letter to Father General and his Council. This is an excerpt from that correspondence:
Dear brother Oblates: Louis, Miguel, Warren, Emmanuel, Clement, Chicho, Gilberto, Cornelius and Paolo,
Very often we are accustomed to write letters of petition: petitions for vows, for renewal of vows, for perpetual oblation, for diaconate, etc. And they are a part of our process of missionary religious formation.
Today, however, I want to write a letter of gratitude, a letter of a newly professed in his first days of perpetual oblation in this land of the Holy Cross, Brazil.
I want to express my total Christian joy at belonging to this religious family that I learned to love during this time of on-going formation. And lately, my happiness has grown even more as I could recognize, touch and live ever more strongly the universality of the charism that we embrace.
It was inspiring in Bolivia, during our retreat in preparation for perpetual vows, to breathe the Oblate air that was present among us; all of us sustained and animated by the same charism that animated and encouraged Eugene. All of us were eager to offer our lives at the service of the Kingdom as Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, living out of an experience of God, community and mission.
This experience was so strong for me, yet I did not know the depth of Oblate life that I would experience some days afterward. I arrived in Spain full of expectations with our little community of young Brazilians, ready to participate for the first time in an Oblate World Youth Day and the encounter with Pope Benedict XVI.
There, I was able to touch with my own hands what I had only heard about before. Now I have seen, I have lived and I have experienced what my lips can proclaim: we are missionary Oblates in the world and for the whole world! We are a treasure of the Universal Church! In Málaga, I discovered more profoundly that I am part of a universal family, with a charism poured out over the world with much beauty, strength and delight, holding within it the power to fascinate those that come to know it.
In Málaga, a new, modern Pentecost took place among us. God is the only way to explain the communication among such different people, among youth so diverse and so similar to one another. The universal language of love, centered on Eugene de Mazenod, was amply manifest there. We were able to share and to experience more profoundly the charism of our Congregation, together with young people who joyfully desired to drink from the same fonts from which we ourselves drink.
It was there that my vocation to become part of this family was intensified and grew within me as well as my desire to respond with my “yes” as did Mary and the Oblate Martyrs, rooted and built on Christ, strong in the faith. And what a feeling was born within us in the very place where the Oblate Martyrs lived!
It was fascinating to go from group to group, listening to them, smiling together with them and enjoying the experience of universal brotherhood in a profound understanding of being community, where every person is truly valued, respected, cared for and loved. It was surprising to see everyone as an equal, for that is what we truly are. Priests, Brothers, Oblates and Oblate Sisters in formation, General Councilors, the Superior General, youths…everyone so united, mingling into the great family that we formed. And that is where I met many of you. At certain times I didn’t even know who was who. And this didn’t matter! In this way we are Oblates: among us there should not be concerns about responsibilities, about positions; we are and we become equal to each other in every time and place and this is why I chose to you each by name at the beginning.
For us, young people at the beginning of a journey, filled with dreams and desires for the good, I affirm that it is necessary and very important for us to feel the welcome and the love of every one of you, Oblates who are more experienced, who are witnesses for our lives. It encourages us and inspires us to continue believing in the values of religious life. In his homily at our oblation, Father Louis Lougen welcomed us in the name of the whole Congregation and exhorted everyone to care for us, to be responsible for us and to love us, we who had just been received as new members of this family. They were profound words and not too common, and which sometimes are forgotten.
Throughout this year, however, I learned more about the necessity to love, to love one another and to feel loved in this family. This is why I want to encourage you, as men of God, placed by Him at the animation of our Congregation, to be living witnesses of love among us; living signs of the love with which Eugene himself loved each Oblate in his own time, a love like none other. You should take care of each other, encourage each other, and you will learn to love our family even more and show that same care for each Oblate as a human being and as a Christian missionary to help us on the way to holiness.
Thank you for your presence in the Congregation. Thank you for your witness and desire to serve. Thank you for the simplicity of your hearts. Thank you for revealing Eugene to the world of today and for teaching us to be as he wanted us to be. Thank you very much, as a Congregation, for receiving me as your brother, as an important person in this Oblate family. (Patrick Oliveira Urias, OMI)
In July 2011, Fr. John HENAULT wrote of the continued struggle with the cholera epidemic that has plagued Haiti for many months now. He is pastor of Notre-Dame de la Mer Parish on Île-à-Vache (Cow Island).
Upon my return from my visit to the USA last year, I was being “pressured” to finish my part in our water project. Things were moving along quite well until October when the cholera epidemic broke out in Haiti. We presumed that being out on a remote island, we were safe. The last week of November, our first case appeared:P a boat captain from the mainland bringing supplies to the island.
At our government health center here, no one wanted to touch this guy. I had a hard time trying to convince a taxi boat (our local boat ambulance was grounded because of a defective motor) to transport him to the hospital in Les Cayes. It cost me $600 Haitian. Two days after, our first islander came down with cholera: again another boat trip. The next day a third case: another trip. This is where I decided to do something here. The local Haitian nurses and aides at the health center refused to treat these patients. Via amateur radio contacts, a helicopter came in with two foreign doctors and supplies to train the nurses and help in the care of cholera patients. After 5 hours of hands-on training, our local medical staff was willing to treat the sick. In the meantime, through amateur radio and contacts, I was able to have shipped in a large military tent, a white UNISEF tent and cholera cots.
Tending to this emergency is where most of my time and funds were spent. At the peak of our outbreak here, we were treating daily 50-60 patients of all ages. Our two tents were filled and we had people outdoors. Re-hydration, is the only medication necessary, both IV and oral at the same time. I’m an expert on treating cholera now.
I was able to get a team of Doctors without Borders to come here and help set things up early in December. Of all the centers set up in the southern part of Haiti, ours has been the most highly praised and efficient. Before we had things in place, we had 23 deaths and, up to now, we have had 695 cases come to the center. I had to put in water and electricity and spent most of my days up there. In February, Doctors without Borders had to leave here. A 7 person team of 3 nurses, 3 hygienists and 1 statistician now maintains a 24 hours/7 days a week service. The Ministry of Health made them a contract for 3 months but sadly they have not been paid and no one knows where the money is. I’m trying through contacts, to uncover the fraud and grave injustice that seems to have taken place at the Ministry of Health. There are three other centers that had the same problem and are now closed and the staff has never been paid.
Although I haven’t had any new cases in a couple of weeks, I’m keeping our center open. I promised the team I would pay their salaries with the help of my family and friends. Thanks to God for all the contacts, help and support, which helped us save hundreds of lives and we are still on stand-by.
Amateur radio again played a very indispensable means to accomplish all that was done. I am greatly indebted to radio operators for the phone patches, calls, and contacts they made for me.
May Our Lady of the Sea, patron of my parish out here on Ile-a-Vache, refer all prayers and sharing in my behalf to her Son and may He repay all these benefactors in His way, for being my family, my friends, my co-missionaries. (Gus’ News Notes, October 2011)