Father Enzo, one of our Passionists in Haiti, went recently to Dame Marie, La Serengue and Jeremie, places devasted by hurricane Matthew, where the St. Luke Foundation for Haiti has schools and clinic.
“The duration of the flight to Dame Marie is one hour by helicopter. Half way to Jeremie today rain was hitting the windshield of the helicopter, and we started to worry that we had to abort again, but fortunately we were able to go through. The raindrops on the windshield seemed to me like to many teardrops and while we were flying, I was thinking of how many tears Hurricane Matthew had provoked.
“Just before arriving to Jeremie, the helicopter turned slightly inland to reach Dame Marie, where the eye of the hurricane passed. I remember visiting previously the past two years, and remember that compared to the rest of the country the province of Grand Anse had very lush vegetation. What struck me immediately as soon as we turned inland was to see how Hurricane Matthew chopped acres and acres of trees.
“The province of Grand Anse is particularly isolated, and paradoxically one of the most vegetated places that remained in the country, which has otherwise been so heavily deforested. The hurricane is always a natural disaster, no doubt. But with our human hands we can increase the disaster by not treating the earth as the common home given to us by God, through deforestation, pollution, poor building construction, lack of urban planning, so often the result of poverty.
“When we arrived to Dame Marie, we saw houses spread throughout the vegetation without their roofs, and rivers grown three times their size. It was heartbreaking. When we were approaching Dame Marie, it was hard to understand even what we were looking at arriving by helicopter. From the air we could see the roof of the parish church blown away and so of the houses, but we saw many colors. Getting closer, we saw that it was clothes hanging everywhere to dry after all those days of rain.
“We landed on the football field. The pilot was afraid to land, thinking that the people would assault us in search for food, and just wanted to go from one place to another by air. We are well known in the area, and Nebez is originally from there, so we landed. The pilot gave us 15 minutes on the ground because of the weather conditions. As we landed we were surrounded by hundreds of people who began to clap hands, sing and praise God for our arrival. It was almost like they were visited by God. More than bringing food, blankets, clothes or water, I think today it was very important to them to know that they were not abandoned, they are not alone and that they belong to a bigger family.
” We visited the community hospital and that’s when I cried as I saw people laying on the floor crying and abandoned. I was impressed while we were walking with the Bishop how people stopped him saying, “praise God that the Lord has visited his people” and asking him with concern how things were in Jeremie. On our way back to the helicopter it was amazing to see women washing clothes, cooking, drying the corn or the rice in the sun, to see the notebooks and books of the children drying in the sun hoping to go back to school as soon as possible.
“Once at the helicopter, it was beautiful to see the children playing on the field doing cartwheels around us. Before we left, the Bishop prayed with the people he said that our houses have been destroyed, our lives have been disrupted, our tress and crops have been chopped off, but we are all alive, and this is already a grace. All the people began to shout “Amen, hallelujah!” The next few weeks are going to be critical, and we are thinking not only to bring supplies, but also to set up a hospital tent. It is worth mentioning that we were first people to reach Dame Marie after the hurricane.
“While we were flying over Jeremie before landing we saw the cathedral completely open on the top. The roof had been blown off, and was heartbreaking to see. But mostly it was heartbreaking to see the people with houses destroyed, built so poorly and with such poor materials to begin with. When we landed in the football field, the people recognized the Bishop and started to run towards him. It was beautiful to see. What came to mind was when Jesus said “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me” (Jn 10:14). But again, I saw more a lamb than a shepherd, who was ready to carry on his shoulders the burden of his people. We had to leave him quickly, but promised him that we would return to help him and his people.
“I would like here to talk about the resilience of our Haitian brothers and sisters. They are like a boxer in a boxing ring. Knocked down, and the count to ten is on, but they are always able to stand up before the final countdown. Not even the hurricane can knock them out. It makes me think too of what is now a prophetic image of Our Lady of Sorrows, the patroness of our congregation, that we had painted on the side of our new residence which bears her name that will face the entrance of the new St Luke hospital.
“Our Founder, Paul of the Cross used to compare Our Lady of Sorrows to a rock on which the waves slam but cannot move her. As I contemplated this, I saw Our Lady holding Christ’s shroud firmly but gently as a mother holds her child. The wind and the waves batter her as she appeals to God on behalf of the Haitian people. There is sorrow in her face but confidence too. Why else would she be on that sharp rock but for her faith!
“On our way to Jeremie the sky was full of rain drops that reminded me of tears. On the way home the sky was clear but my eyes were full of tears. It is an obligation to have been the eyes and ears on behalf of our friends and supporters who are so concerned for those affected by this disaster, and now to be their voice to you on their behalf. These are people who are already so vulnerable of being invisible to the outside world, and I am humbled today to have had the chance to help share their story.”
Fr Enzo Del Brocco
St Luke Foundation and
Passionisti Haiti Mission of Our Lady of Sorrows