In Rome with the Knights of Columbus, the athletes exemplify hope and healing against incredible odds
VATICAN CITY — Three young Haitian men who survived the Haitian earthquake of 2010 were received today at the Vatican by Pope Francis, along with attendees of a day-long event to mark the passing of five years since the devastating quake. They were in Rome courtesy of the Knights of Columbus.All three are amputees, and two lost their legs during the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake. Undeterred by their disabilities they took up amputee soccer, showing off their remarkable skills in a scrimmage with Roman players at a K of C soccer field in Rome on Friday. The three are members of Team Zaryen – a Haitian amputee team in Port-au-Prince.
Wilfrid Macena, Mackenson Pierre and Sandy J.L. Louiseme received prosthetic and rehabilitation care through “Healing Haiti’s Children,” a program sponsored by the Knights of Columbus and the University of Miami-affiliated Project Medishare. The partnership made available free prosthetics and rehabilitation to every child who lost a limb in the earthquake.
With Medishare’s medical expertise and the Knights of Columbus’s funding of nearly $1.7 million to date, a sustainable program was forged by hiring local Haitians to do much of the fabrication and rehabilitation work. To date, approximately 1,000 people have received prosthetic limbs through the program, with more than 25,000 people receiving additional rehabilitation services.
Some of the Haitian amputees, including Macena, Pierre and Louiseme, signed on as members of a new soccer team composed of amputee athletes from Port-au-Prince and the surrounding region.
In Rome on Saturday, they presented Pope Francis with a jersey with the number 5 on it to indicate the number of years that have passed since the event that changed their lives so dramatically. They also presented the soccer-loving pope from Argentina with a ball signed by team members.
The conference in Rome was called by Pope Francis to focus on the humanitarian catastrophe and its ongoing impact, and he used the occasion Saturday to affirm the Church’s closeness to the Haitian people. The meeting, organized by the Pontifical Commission for Latin America and the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum,” included a presentation by Knights of Columbus Supreme Knight Carl Anderson.
Carl Anderson and Dr. Robert Gailey, director of rehabilitation for Project Medishare, also greeted the pope together with the team.
“We are profoundly grateful to the Holy Father for calling this conference and for remembering the Haitian people, who are too often forgotten,” said Supreme Knight Carl Anderson. “The members of team Zaryen represent both the loss and the resilience of the Haitian people, who have both endured and overcome so much since the Earthquake.”
The moving story of the prosthetic program and those it has served has been captured in “Unbreakable: A Story of Hope and Healing in Haiti,” a documentary that is being aired by several PBS affiliates in U.S. markets this month.
Winner of the Most Inspirational Documentary Award at the DocMiami International Film Festival’s Florida Documentary Film Festival in September, the film also follows the story of the amputee soccer team, named Zaryen (tarantula) after the spider known for its resilience — even after losing a leg.
The team has inspired not only Haitians but also Americans, as it traveled to the U.S. in 2011 to introduce amputee soccer to troops who lost limbs in Iraq and Afghanistan.
One of the most active charitable organizations in the United States, the Knights of Columbus donated more than $170 million and 70 million hours of service in 2013.