Dear family and friends,
I would like to tell you briefly a few stories from Haiti, realizing that the recent events in Minnesota, Dallas and France already wound our hearts and trouble our minds.
For the past number of years, as our earth overheats, we have been living through drastic changes in worldwide weather patterns, and seeing the ensuing destructive effects.
Explanations for this abound, including carbon gas emissions, and from the Inuit peoples in their Arctic homeland, the claim that the northern sun no longer rises where it used to, but that the axis of the earth has shifted more toward the sun.
Unrelated, but yet similarly, we also see the overheating of human anger and hatred, and the all too frequent and destructive human behavior of terrorizing, which by now have become shockingly commonplace.
We see in the news that many of these terrorist attacks are crude and isolated. It seems that aside from well-planned attacks by large extremist groups, are the lone acting citizens who have gone rogue, influenced by hatred spread on social media, and getting ideas from previously widely published acts of violence. From these there can be almost no planned protection. To live with terrorism in the USA and Europe is the new normal (as it has sadly long been the norm in the Mideast and in a number of other conflicted regions in our world).
The human suffering caused by acts of terror multiply our fears and doubts, which can become like a poison within us, and can make us cynical, fearful, defensive- and living with a gnawing doubt about the value of life and what the future holds for our children.
In Haiti, during this past week, we have also had our jolts and tragedies.
They are not acts of terrorism, unless we understand that life itself is sometimes the biggest terrorist: as human lives unravel because of poverty, because of devastating illness, because of the hurricanes, earthquakes and floods that take life and limb in the blink of an eye.
On Monday, a nine-year-old neighbor of our home for children at Kenscoff, hung himself with a bicycle chain. His name was Nicholas. He left a simple note: "there is nothing in life for me." A bicycle, which should be a toy, became a tool of death.
To sit quietly in the chapel, before the Blessed Sacrament, and imagine how in his very childhood, Nicholas could become so lonely and forlorn, is sobering.
Prayer for his soul is painful. But it is offered in solidarity with his painful life, and is also offered with hope for his newfound glory with God.
Living an empty life, without meaning and feeling very alone, leads to violence. Even if the violence seems like a personal and quiet act, those left behind are devastated.
Jocelyn is one of the many victims of the earthquake who works with us, who have lost an arm or leg. Jocelyn helps us with the tilapia fish farm. He is the night watchman. His job is to throw stones at evening birds of prey, and be vigilant against a blackout that would stop the blowers that blow air into the water - without that air, 56,000 fish would suffocate and die.
On Tuesday night, Jocelyn came to see me as his shift started, to tell me his prosthetic leg was rotting from the inside out. It produces piles of black powder released every time he takes off his shoe. The leg is 6 years old, from the time of the earthquake.He took off the shoe to show me, and the black , moldy dust piled up on the floor. He was embarrassed about dirtying the floor, and was worried that soon he would not be able to work, because he would not be able to walk.
He is really afraid to lose his work and the independence and social life it brings.He would need $200 to have a new leg made- an exorbitant amount of money for him, and a lot of money even for us as we try to manage so many more sick people than ever since the public hospitals in Haiti have been on strike for nine weeks.
Of course we have already replaced Jocelyn's leg, but the symbolism cannot be missed. It seems like the world is rotting from the inside out. It seems like the fruit of modern life is piles of the dust of disintegration, visible in large quantity every time we remove one of our props, as when Jocelyn removed his shoe. Do we even have a leg to stand on, as we try to recuperate the best of what human life is?
On Thursday, Kerline from our St Anne home came to tell me that Valerie died, and to plan the funeral for yesterday.
The fact that she has my name already signals that she was abandoned- and abandoned too young to be able to speak her own name. Because I started the mission here in 1987, abandoned children are often given my name.
In Valerie's case, she was a tiny baby with severe disabilities, abandoned in the thorn bushes near St Damien Hospital, not quite two years ago.
She was left in the thorn bushes, in the sweltering heat, a prey for fire ants. A disabled infant, a child of God, who like another more famous child of God, was crowned with thorns and acquainted with grief.
She was brought to us, was cared for with love at our St Anne Home.
To breathe was a struggle for Valerie.
To be fed was a direct competition to her fight to breathe.
Valerie fought to do both, and broke the hearts of all those who cared for her,
when two days ago she could no longer do either.
Valerie fought to live, and those who loved her helped her to fight and cheered her on. Valerie overflowed with what Nicolas was missing, even if unconsciously: the will to live, kindled by the warmth and light of love, IN SPITE OF ALL HARDSHIP, SUFFERING AND LIMITATIONS.
Yesterday, I heard on the Haitian radio, that 40 prisoners who have died in recent weeks are still not buried. The political system is still paralyzed because of fraudulent elections, there is a sitting president whose term is expired and so his authority is not constitutionally valid, which means there is no one to resolve the hospital strikes or organize the burial of the dead bandits.
When I was a young priest and had an open heart for all kinds of people who are marginalized, including prisoners, the radio appeal might have stirred sympathy in me.
Having lived through the pain of many years of kidnappings, killings, and brutal deaths- especially having lost 6 close workers and friends to bandits in recent years, my stomach turned as I listened to the radio, and it did not move me at all that they remain unburied.
Later yesterday afternoon, we got a call from the city morgue, asking us to bury the 40 prisoners.
I said right away, "we are out of body bags"
(which was true),
and I added, "we don't have any more coffins"
(which was also true since - we just did burials earlier this week of our own dead).
Something did not sit right with me, as I kept this distance from what was being asked of us.
I knew I could afford at least 150 body bags right away on credit in Miami,
and that I had enough frequent flyer miles to send someone to get them today.
So I gave in.
As I said, "we can bury them this coming Tuesday", I felt right inside again.
There is a lesson in all these things that we are living. If we cannot fully prevent either sophisticated or crude terrorism, if we cannot at all prevent the terror that life itself inflicts on us, we need to define ourselves by what means most to us, as people and as children of God, precious to God and to each other, and never recoil from this out of fear.
Not giving in to anxiety, cynicism and fear, not abandoning our treasured values.
Every pain, every suffering, every hardship should increase our determination to hold fast to the values that God has given our human family.
Whether or not the earth has tilted more toward the sun, you and I cannot allow ourselves to tilt away from what is most good, most noble, most wonderful about our human family. Especially in our doubt and fear, we cannot afford tilt away from God.
We cannot afford to let ourselves or anyone around us, like Nicholas , wither away unto death from lack of meaning, lack of love, lack of joy, lack of hope.
And I cannot allow myself the luxury, (no matter how understandable my reluctance), especially as a priest, of disqualifying myself from burying the dead and commending them to God's mercy.
We stand on this promise:
“For though the mountains may fall and the hills turn to dust,
My lovingkindness will not be removed from you,
And My covenant of peace will not be shaken,”
Says the LORD who has compassion on you.(Isaiah 54:10)
Let's continue to hold each other up -in friendship and in prayer.
Fr Rick Frechette CP
Port au Prince HAITI
July 17, 2016