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Home : News : Nation and World
Virginia parish helps build Haiti village in memory of popular pastor
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON  -- The Church of the Nativity in Burke, Virginia, has donated enough money to Food for the Poor to build a village in Haiti in memory of its longtime pastor, Father Richard Martin, who died in May.

Food for the Poor recently announced plans for the new Good Shepherd Village, as it will be called.

Father Martin had traveled to Haiti many times with Food for the Poor, helping thousands of Haitian citizens have a better life by providing shelter, clean water, sanitization and schools.

"He was involved in the whole aspect of education, which we believe can break the circle of poverty," said Delane Bailey-Herd, the in-country manager of Food for the Poor. "The village we are going to build really embodies the whole Gospel and who Father Martin was," she added.

Food for the Poor is a Florida-based interdenominational Christian relief and development organization working primarily in 17 countries in the Caribbean and Latin America.

"Our mission statement is to turn the face of the church in the First World to the need of the poor in the Third World," said Bailey-Herd.

The village will be the 10th built by Nativity parish, which is in the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia. It will contain more than 120 houses, solar lighting, a community center, a health clinic, agricultural projects, and a kindergarten. The residents will receive life-skills training to ensure that they can take the best advantage of all the programs offered.

"Our goal is to take people out of severe economic depression and give them a chance (for) life, give them hope not only for themselves but also for their children, and their children's children," Bailey-Herd told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview.

Residents of Good Shepherd will be people who are in dire need of basic necessities. Food for the Poor works with pastors, missionaries, partner organizations, clinics, community leaders and churches in vulnerable and very poor areas to ensure that aid reaches those who are in most need.

"The impact of the Nativity Church and Father Martin's influence is going to last not only on this generation but also on generations to come," Bailey-Herd stated.

She explained that Nativity parishioners and Father Martin, in addition to sending resources to Haiti, have traveled to Haiti to talk to those who are neglected in some of the poorest regions of the country, and spend time with them. They also have visited people in prison.

Bailey-Herd said Father Martin was not afraid to walk into the prisons and hold hands with the prisoners. He has not been afraid of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, and showing them love, explained Bailey-Herd.

"He had a real love for people, and we saw it everywhere we went with him. He understood the poor. In our lobby, we have a wall with four Servants of the Poor," wrote Robin Mahfood, president and CEO of Food for the Poor, in a press release about the new village.

Father Martin worked with Food for the Poor for 16 years through Operation Starfish, which came from an idea the priest had in 1998 to start a program that would allow families "to contribute a little and turn it into a lot."

A year later, the program was given its name, which is based on a well-known story about a boy who was walking on a beach and saw an old man picking up starfish that had washed up on the sand and throwing them back into the ocean. Asked by the boy how his actions could possibly make any difference -- with so many miles of beach and so many washed-up starfish -- the man replied: "It made a difference to that one."

Father Martin's family asked that instead of flowers for the priest's funeral, donations go to Operation Starfish.

Bailey-Herd invited all members of the Catholic family to contribute to making this housing project a reality.

"Here is an opportunity for people to really help to exemplify what Father Martin was about, and to make his cause known, by being part of this part of this great project, in his honor and his memory," she said.

The village will be built near Grand Boulage over a three-year period. According to Food for the Poor, it will combine the latest technology, construction development programs and community development programs. A groundbreaking ceremony has been scheduled for July.

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