Village will be the 10th in Haiti the parish has helped to create

A parish in Virginia is to fund a new village in Haiti in memory of a priest who died last month.

The Church of the Nativity in Burke has donated enough money to Food for the Poor for a village in memory of its parish priest, Fr Richard Martin.

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

Fr Martin had travelled to Haiti many times with Food for the Poor, helping thousands of Haitian citizens have a better life by providing shelter, clean water, sanitisation 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 Fr Martin was,” she added.

Food for the Poor is a Florida-based interdenominational Christian relief and development organisation 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 Ms 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 centre, 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 programmes 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,” Ms Bailey-Herd told the US 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 parish priests, 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 Fr Martin’s influence is going to last not only on this generation but also on generations to come,” Ms Bailey-Herd said.

She explained that Nativity parishioners and Fr Martin, in addition to sending resources to Haiti, have travelled 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.

Ms Bailey-Herd said Fr 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, she said.

“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.

Fr 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 programme that would allow families “to contribute a little and turn it into a lot”.

A year later, the programme 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.”

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

“Here is an opportunity for people to really help to exemplify what Fr 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 and community development programmes. A ceremony has been scheduled for July.