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University Community Gathers in Support of Haiti


January 15, 2010 – When a 7-magnitude earthquake rocked the island nation of Haiti, Georgetown quickly galvanized to support members of its community affected by the tragedy and set relief efforts into motion.

Students, faculty and staff first gathered to observe the Jan. 12 tragedy with an interfaith prayer service, hosted by Campus Ministry and the Caribbean Culture Circle, for the victims and survivors of the earthquake.

"We pray for the world to come together and do their part, so we can save future lives and prepare Haiti, so they can rise again much stronger and wiser," Anthony Peña (SFS'10), Caribbean Culture Circle president, said as he opened the Jan. 15 service.

The crowd stood still, tears streaming down some cheeks, as Haitian student Marta Rifin (C'10) stood before a microphone and, in a clear a capella, sang the national anthem of her homeland. Georgetown's spiritual leaders urged those gathered to find comfort in God.

"There are many words that are hard for us to express -- words of a great sadness, confusion, anger and perhaps of hope. But above all, solidarity," said Rev. Kevin O'Brien, S.J., executive director of Campus Ministry.

Rabbi Harold White, Georgetown's Jewish chaplaincy director, and Imam Yahya Hendi, Muslim chaplaincy director, also offered words of prayer to "overcome the moments of darkness" cast by the devastation facing the Caribbean nation.

Although Georgetown leaders have not been informed of any students, faculty or staff members being casualties of the earthquake, several university community members have lost family and friends. Others who hail from Haiti awaited word on their family's safety in the days and weeks after the earthquake.

"This afternoon, the images and voices of the earthquake victims are with us -- the voices suddenly silenced, the voices raised in mourning, the voices still crying out for rescue," said President John J. DeGioia. "We must all do our part to help those in need in Haiti."

To that end, efforts continue at Georgetown to raise funds for disaster and recovery aid. The Center for Social Justice Research, Teaching and Service (CSJ) raised more than $26,000 in less than two week's time after establishing a Web site for donations. All money raised will be distributed among three organizations on the ground in Haiti -- Jesuit Refugee Services, Save the Children and Partners in Health.

"As a Catholic, Jesuit university, we are called on to live generously in service to others," said Kathleen Maas Weigert, CSJ executive director. "Our brothers and sisters in Haiti are in desperate need, so it's right that we do this."

There are no plans to close the relief site any time soon, added Maas Weigert, who noted that Haitians' post-earthquake needs will continue for months or years.

"We don't want a donation mechanism for the university community not to be available when there are so many needs to be met for the people of Haiti," she said.

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