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Brazilian investors buy Miami real estate. Haitian earthquake survivors attend South Florida schools. It's clear what happens in Latin America and the Caribbean has a profound effect on South Florida.WLRN’s coverage of the region is headed by Americas editor Tim Padgett, a 23-year veteran of TIME and Newsweek magazines.He joins a team of reporters and editors at the Miami Herald, El Nuevo Herald and NPR to cover a region whose cultural wealth, environmental complexity, vast agricultural output and massive oil reserves offer no shortage of important and fascinating stories to tell.

Vatican Casts Spotlight On Haiti Five Years After Earthquake

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Patrick Farrell
/
Miami Herald

Monsignor AugustinAlmy was in Haiti five years ago when the earthquake hit. When the country’s Catholic Church fell apart along with most of Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12, 2010.

Almy, a priest at St. James Catholic Church in North Miami, was visiting Haiti for his mother’s 100th birthday.

He was in his room at the Port-au-Prince seminary where he worked for years before moving to South Florida.

“I see the house shaking,” he said.

It was 4:53 pm.

When the earthquake stopped, the walls had crumbled around him. He climbed out of a window to free himself from the rubble. Almy saw everything in ruins.

Many of the priests and seminarians he’d spoken to 10 minutes before the temblor -- or as Haitians called it, “goudou goudou” -- died.

It's estimated that seven out of every 10 churches were lost that day. At least 60 Catholic churches collapsed -- including the Notre Dame Cathedral in downtown Port-au-Prince.

And among the 300,000 deaths were hundreds of nuns, priests, and church employees.

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Credit Miami Herald Staff
Sitting inside the destroyed national cathedral, Fritz Robert Pierre-Saint, 23, holds his daughter, Cristella Pierre-Saint, as he waits for visitors to peddle for some loose change, Jan. 7, 2011. He admits that Haitians don't care enough to give and depends on the charity of outsiders. Cristella was born on the day of the earthquake just outside the cathedral. She lost her mother just after birth when she killed by the collapsing church.

On the fifth anniversary of the earthquake Pope Francis convened a meeting in Rome about Haiti and its reconstruction efforts.

“The church suffered like the rest of the population suffered,” said Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski.

Wenski was among the group invited to meet with Pope Francis on Saturday.

“I think the Holy Father wants to refocus the world’s attention on Haiti,” he said. “I think five years later a lot of people have forgotten.”

Wenski added he could never forget.

“I knew many people who died were friends of mine,” he said.

Port-au-Prince Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot was one of them. Wenski went to Haiti for Miot's funeral two week after the earthquake.

Miot was eulogized alongside his vicar general and two clergymen -- also killed when the building crashed down on them.

The church and the Haitian community at large are still feeling the impact of Haiti’s earthquake. But amid the void where buildings once stood are glimmers of hope for Haitian Catholics.

Last year, Pope Francis appointed the first-ever Haitian Cardinal -- ChiblyLanglois. It was a move that reaffirmed Haiti’s significance in the church.

During a recent visit to Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood, Langlois thanked the Haitian diaspora for providing support to churches back in Haiti.

“We all recognize that we are brother and sister. The children of one Father," he said in Creole.

The reconstruction costs to repair Catholic churches, clinics and schools in Haiti are estimated to be more than $200 million. Progress has been slow.

“There is A Haitian proverb that says, ‘Espwa fe viv’ -- 'hope is what makes you live,' ” said Archbishop Wenski.

He says he is hopeful that the church will rebuild stronger than it was before. “We want the church to rebuild so the church can be a sign of hope for the Haitian people.”

This week, the Catholic Church will re-open the 100-year-old public health hospital St. Francis De Sales in Port-au-Prince -- five years after it was destroyed in the earthquake.