Tag Archives: Haiti

Ignatius of Antioch

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Ignatius, bishop of Antioch in Syria, a large early Christian center, was put to death in the third century in the Colosseum in Rome where he was devoured by wild animals, during the reign of the Emperor Trajan. His death is vividly portrayed in the picture (above) in the church of San Stefano Rotondo in Rome. We celebrate his feast October 17th..

On the way to Rome, Ignatius wrote seven letters to important Christian churches. The letters show him to be a skillful  teacher and writer; he must have been an eloquent preacher.

In his letter to the Christians at Ephesus,  however, you sense his days for words are coming to an end. He’s entering the silence of death where words are not important, Ignatius writes–  faith and “ being faithful to the end,” are what count. “It is better to remain silent and to be than to talk and not be. Teaching is good if the teacher also acts. One teacher ‘spoke, and it was done,’ yet what he did in silence was worthy of the Father. He who has the word of Jesus can also listen to his silence…”

What does Ignatius mean? The Word of God silent? True, in his early years at Nazareth, Jesus is silent. Before his baptism in the Jordan by John he’s  silent, until the voice of the Father says, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.”

That began his public ministry, yet many didn’t hear him at all. Finally, when he’s arrested and taken to the cross to die, the evangelists say  Jesus was silent.

Silence is part of facing the mystery of God. Here and now, some things can’t be known or explained. Like terrorism, natural disasters, the suffering of children. Why? God is silent. Again,  Ignatius:

“He who has the word of Jesus can truly listen also to his silence.”

Haiti: Best of Times, Worst of Times

W received word from Fr. Rich Frechette, CP:

“Since the day after hurricane Matthew, we have been scrambling to respond to many pleas for help, mostly from friends.

One of those pleas has been a pretty continuous call from Fr David Fontaine, a brother priest who was begging for help for three cut off and isolated areas: D’Asile, Grand Boucan and Baraderes.

While traveling to Abricot (Jeremy)  and Dame Marie in the days right after Matthew to reach our staffs there, (even cutting our way through the fallen trees to get there), I was on the email constantly trying to get a helicopter to reach Fr David and his flock in these three places. 

Three days ago, after one aborted effort to get to D’Asile by land, we were finally able to get there with food and water- after two blown truck tires and getting stuck in the mud in two different river crossings.

Yesterday I decided that since I still cannot get a helicopter, we would try to reach Grand Boucan and Baraderes by boat.

We have already lost one of our caravans to brigands, who robbed us at gunpoint at Carrefour Charles at Corail, as we headed to Pestel. 

When Charles Dickens started his Tale of Two Cities with the warning: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” he sure knew what he was talking about.

In the extremes of times, both the best and the worse are very much present. You can see around you saints and angels, demons and hell, and also the usual herd of apathetics.

Interestingly enough, of these three groups, God seems to like the apathetics least.  He says:

“15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to vomit you out of my mouth.” (Rev 3:15-16)

I think the logic of God’s opinion on this, is that because people who make choices for evil still have passion, (which apathetic people lack), and passion at least has the possibility of becoming passionate for Good. 

When push comes to shove, God prefers bad people to apathetic ones. They can still be redeemed.

So yesterday we loaded up 500 sacks of rice and 500 sacks of water (with 60 small bags/sack) and headed toward Petit Trou de Nippes, where we would sleep at the parish house and head off in boats this morning.

At 10pm last night, we were nearly at the parish house when, in front of a very small village, two tires of the heavy truck exploded. The village people were first scared, and then smiled, thinking what luck that this truck destined for somewhere else was now their bounty.

They first came and stood around in large numbers. This truck was contracted just for this trip, and the driver did not have a lug wrench or a jack. We had to send some of our team on motorcycle to find some “tire men” who might have the right size gear.

In the middle of nowhere, this took about 2 hours. During that time, some armed young people came to make their claim.

We were completely in their hands.

And then two things happened. 

A little girl names Guerlande, who has been at our children’s hospital for heart disease, recognized Fr Enzo and called out to him. 

The armed men saw the sick girl approach and embrace the priest. 

At the same time, Raphael recognized one of the bandits as being from his old neighborhood. Raphael took out a little rum, shared it, and then stories of childhood flowed.

We were delivered.

Finally reaching the parish house, itself a victim of Matthew, Fr Luckson gave us small mattresses, so we could lay down and try to sleep (and get chewed up by mosquitos). 

Before I got my mat, i was invited by Lukson into the church. He said he wanted to show me something. 

He explained the church was built in the 1600’s, pretty much by accident. Ships passing this area to build the Cathedral in Jeremy became grounded there, and so they decided to build a midpoint warehouse on the spot. The place later became a little town, graced by a Church. The Church of the Nativity.

And there over the altar, an original painting of Leonardo Da Vinci, of the babe in swaddling clothes with his mother and father. 

The painting has become so weathered and worn, if a museum procurator were to see it, she would have a heart attack on the spot. (And as I am sure you suspect, there are no defibrillators in Petit Trou de Nippes.)

A beautiful baby, born in darkness and starkness. 

We set out early in the morning for the boats we rented by phone contact. We had no idea of their size, age, or seaworthiness.

We soon saw the leaks could be easily bailed by bucket, and that two trips using three boats a trip would do it for all that rice and water.

We started loading the boats. The first began to tilt and rock. It looked like it would tip over. All the people watching cheered.

This was a second group to think that the voyage was not possible, and so the bounty theirs.

After a while we went sputtering across the bay to Grand Boucan, to deliver the food to isolated victims of Matthew.

As soon as the boat launched, the small crew took condoms out of their pockets.

Good God. What now?

The opened them, rolled them over their cell phones and tied them at the bottom, to keep them safe from the splashing water.

Finally, a use of condoms that does not provoke moral debate! 

We also covered our phones. As they say, any port in a storm.

We made it easily to Grand Boucan, but we could not make the second trip to Baraderes. The priest of Baraderes, Fr Jean Philippe, called and said he could not control the thieves at his wharf.

When I heard this I thought, if only he had grown up with one of the thieves. 

If only he had held one of their children in his arms when she was sick.

If only he would open a small bottle of rum to share.

The truth is, the world is as much saved by what we have done, as it is by what we do. The best way to go through life is building bridges, forging bonds, and cuddling children in our arms.

I am back to looking for a helicopter for Baraderes.

The best of times, the worst of times. A hurricane and a DaVinci original meet up in a tiny Haitian town.

The cycnics around us will scoff. The apathetics in our company will yawn. 

But those open to new life, like a baby born in a darkness and starkness of a  hurricane-ravaged country, will look eagerly forward to the work of building a future in hope.”

Some of you have asked where to send contributions you have collected for the Haiti Rebuilding Effort. Please mail all donations to the Passionist Development Office, 111 South Ridge St, Ste 300, Rye Brook, NY 10573.

Poor Haiti

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

15th Sunday B: Go With What You Have

To listen to today’s homily, please select the audio file below:


We read last Sunday from the Gospel of Mark about the rejection of Jesus in his own hometown of Nazareth. After performing two great miracles, he went home and found himself dismissed and belittled by people he has known all his life, not only townspeople but members of his own family.
“A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.” (Mark)

The rejection didn’t stop him, of course. Leaving Nazareth Jesus turns to the twelve he has chosen previously and sends them out to announce the coming of the Kingdom of God. He gives them a commission; he empowers them. But listening to his words in the gospel ,we might wonder if he’s really giving them all they need.

“He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick—no food, no sack, no money in their belts. They were, however, to wear sandals but not a second tunic. “

No food, no begging bag, no money? Not even a change of clothes? Doesn’t seem adequate, does it?

A Haitian priest, Father Joseph, is staying with us for a few months trying to learn English and last Friday he celebrated our community Mass for the first time in English. The gospel, appropriately, was from St. Matthew, where Jesus said to his apostles, “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves… do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say. For it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”

We can be a tough audience, of course, but we clapped for him when he finished. No, we couldn’t understand him all the time, but his sincerity, his zeal, the faith of the man stood out. The Spirit was speaking through him.

I think that’s what Jesus tells us in today’s gospel. He’s not talking to his apostles alone; he’s talking to us too. Don’t be afraid to embrace your faith, to live it as well as you can and to offer it to others as well as you can. The Spirit uses us. Even if you think your faith is small, don’t be afraid to use it, even if you don’t have all the answers or can’t put it in the words you would like, say it. Jesus gives us his Spirit; we need to depend on the Spirit, not on our own abilities.

These days the pope is visiting three countries in South America: Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay. These are countries that are among the poorest in the world. They don’t have much clout; they’re not among the super-powers. I suppose some would say the pope should manage his time better. Instead of going to places like that why not go to Harvard or Princeton and talk to the intelligentsia. Why not go to Hollywood and talk to the celebrities, they’re the people with power. But pope seems to prefer going to the poor.

And what does he say to them? To a congress in Bolivia of representatives of labor and many marginalized groups he said:”The future of humanity does not lie solely in the hands of great leaders, the great powers and the elites,” he said. “It is fundamentally in the hands of peoples and in their ability to organize. It is in their hands, which can guide with humility and conviction this process of change. I am with you. Let us together say from the heart: no family without lodging, no rural worker without land, no laborer without rights, no people without sovereignty, no individual without dignity, no child without childhood, no young person without a future, no elderly person without a venerable old age. Keep up your struggle and, please, take great care of Mother Earth.” Sounds like something Jesus would say.

The Big Picture: The Magi

This is the time of the year when people make predictions about the future. It’s a time to look back and look forward.

Our local newspaper on Friday in Hudson County featured the predictions of a local psychic about the future of our mayor, our governor, our senator and a variety of local politicians. Psychics are big this time of year.

The host of PBS’s Newshour the other night asked his two experts to talk about the big picture ahead. “What does it look like?” They talked about the “Tea Party,” possible roll-backs in the health care program, the new Republican majority in Congress. That’s about as far as they went. I would guess the cable news channels talked about the same things from even a narrower perspective: politics and economics–American politics and the American economic picture.

Something’s missing. Our “big picture” is really a small picture. We seem to lack of larger vision of life.

We live in a secular age, an age of “expressive individualism.”(Charles Taylor) One of the drawbacks of the secular mind is its tendancy to be small-minded, to concentrate on the here and now, on what we see and do, on our personal interests. Even believers are part of a secular age and share its tendancies.

The secular age needs the spark of revelation.

What about the mystery of the Epiphany we celebrate today? Can it bring sparks to secular minds?

Let’s take the gospel story of the Magi out of its Christmas card setting and ask what its all about. The Magi were strangers, people coming from afar, bringing gifts. They recognized the Child whom others did not see. Then, we may surmise, they brought news of him back to their own people and part of the world.

The other day I was talking to a young priest from my community in Kenya, an African who’s studying now in Chicago. He was asking me about the new media and how to reach others through it. He wants to learn as much as he can from us, but he also thinks that Africa has something to offer the world, and his church in Kenya as something to contribute to the church beyond it.

Is he the Magi coming to us today?

Matthew’s gospel is the only gospel with the story of the Magi. The gospel was written for Jewish Christians in Galilee and the neighboring areas and it emphasizes that Jesus came first to them. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” Jesus tells the Canaanite woman, a gentile pleading for a cure for her daughter. (Mt 15;24)  “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” Jesus instructs the twelve as he sends them out earlier in his gospel. (Mt 10, 5)

Were these stories Matthew’s way to bolster the faith of  Jewish Christians beset by a powerful Jewish orthodoxy that questioned their belief in Jesus Christ? Was Matthew’s story of the magi also a reminder that the gospel was meant for others besides them?

Jesus came to save all, even though his first ministry was to the Jews. God  saves the world and his gifts and graces are in many peoples and places. He doesn’t save the few.

We live in a big world that’s meant to be one. It’s not a world to be ignored. Great gifts and burdens are there, gifts and burdens meant to be shared. An earthquake in Haiti, for example,  is our tragedy too.  A worldwide depression is our problem too. More  and more, we tend to demonize the Muslim world. The Magi may have come from present day Iran or Yemen; two places we hardly view positively today.

We are tending to demonize immigrants in our own country today. Many of us are descendants of immigrants who came here with gifts and burdens. When they first arrived, those here often saw them only as burdens to this country. We know better.

The story of the Magi is not a sweet story about camels and men dressed in strange rich robes. It’s about the big picture, a picture we should see.

Can Haiti Help Us?

I’m reading these first days of Lent a book by Fr. Rick Frechette: Haiti: The God of Tough Places, the Lord of Burnt Men. He’s a priest, a doctor, a member of my community, the Passionists, who has been serving the poor in Haiti for over 20 years.

When the recent catastrophic earthquake struck on January 12, 2010 he was the  director of a 150 bed pediatric hospital for poor children near Port-au-Prince and was responsible for setting up some street schools for poor kids in the slums of the city and a program for bringing clean water into the slums by truck.

All of those projects came to a halt or suffered severe damage in the earthquake that killed over 230,000 people. Fr. Rick is rebuilding now. Not only is he rebuilding, he hopes to do more.

His book,  a compilation of reflections about his work in Haiti over the years, is more than a picture of what he’s doing. It’s more a story of God’s grace shining through human misery. Haiti is a tough burnt land, but God wisdom and beauty are there in a place its people call “Calvary’s Hill.”  God’s grace is always there where a cross is set up.

Frechette’s book, instead of making you ask  “What can we do for Haiti?” makes you ask rather “What can Haiti do for us?”.

What can we learn from the place that most of us don’t want to look at?

When Fr. Rick built his pediatric hospital for the poor, he made it the best children’s hospital in Haiti, because he said the poor deserve the best. That’s not the way we think in our part of the world, is it? With us, the poor more likely get the worst.

We believe in success and think we have a right to it. We can be successful if we try hard.  We  can be winners and we like winners; we don’t like losers.  We like the stars, the celebrities, not the failed and the broken. We grow impatient with intractable problems. We turn away from them. “You’re fired,” we say to them.

The wisdom Jesus teaches is different, however. “Whatever you do to the least, you do to me.” And he told us to bear our cross and to share the cross that others bear.

Fr. Rick’s stories are about beauty and grace in the least and God who reveals himself in the mystery of the Cross.

The ultimate human failure, of course, is death.  And here again, Fr. Rick has  some of Haiti’s wisdom to pass on to us.  As a doctor,  he heals, but as a priest he buries dead as well. The grace of God pursues us even to death.

A few weeks after the earthquake, Fr. Rick’s mother died. He was able to get to her bedside and celebrate her funeral in Wethersfield, Ct and this is what he said.

“My mother was diagnosed with cancer about 8 months ago.  Over these months she had time to think about her life and death, about all those she loved, and about her God.  With the care of the best physicians and nurses, with the full devotion of her husband and children, she met the end of her life in a beautiful way. Slowly dying during mass at her bedside, dying shortly after my sermon on the merciful presence of the Blessed Mother who is with us “now and at the hour of our death”, she died during the consecration of the sacred bread and wine.  I later asked my father, since mom died so soon after my talk, if he thought my words were lethal, and did mom in!  He replied quickly, “your sermon darn near killed us all.”

Imagine, the earthquake caused the death of 100,000 to the present count.  The death of these people was so different from the death of my mother.  Instead of 8 months to prepare, they had 34 seconds.  Instead of constant attention and affection from loving families and skilled doctors, buildings fell on them, trapped them, crushed them and isolated them.  Instead of being honored with a beautiful coffin, the precious white pall, the wonderful incense, they bloat and rot and make you turn your head and vomit.  Instead of being laid tenderly in the grave as we will do to my mother today, they are lifted from the street by backhoes and front end loaders and dumped into huge trucks..  It is so different, so tragic, sad beyond words.  Life has to end for everyone. But the way that life ended for Gerri Frechette is a cause of thanksgiving and joy, and our gratitude should make our hearts burst with zeal, to want to right the wrong for those whose death is a humiliation and a disgrace.

On January 6th as I came home from Haiti to stay with mom to the end, the Archbishop of Port au Prince, Joseph Serge Miot, asked me to let him know when mom died.  He wanted to come and officiate at her funeral.  On January 12th ,  just 6 days later, he was dead.  Within 34 seconds the earthquake threw him from his 3rd floor balcony to the patio below, and the chancery fell on top of him, and the cathedral fell on top of the chancery.  I tell you this for two reasons. First, to remember and pray for this kind pastor and bishop during this mass. And second, as an example of a simple reality.  Did he ever expect to be dead before my dying mother?  What are your expectations of your death?  How secure are you sitting here at the funeral?  Will you still be here in 6 days?  Or maybe will you also be gone, with 34 seconds to prepare?

The point is a simple one.  We cannot escape death.  We should learn everything we can about it.  This mass, this earthquake, should be a profound school of learning for us.  To die the right way we have to know the right way to live.  Right living is the preparation for right dying – even a death  that comes in 34 seconds.”

For more on him, see www.thepassionists.org

Haiti

Haiti: The God of Tough Places, the Lord of Burnt Men

Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick, NJ  2010   $29.95

Fr. Richard Frechette, CP, Passionist priest and medical doctor, has served the poor in the tough, burnt land of Haiti through floods, revolutions and the recent catastrophic earthquake of January 12, 2010 which left 200,000 dead.

There’s not much he hasn’t seen. But here’s a book of stories that reveal what all of us find hard to see: there’s a mighty, joyful goodness in that tough, burnt land. Frechette uncovers the graces of God in the chaos, violence and poverty of “Calvary hill,” Haiti today.

He has eyes that see in the dark, beyond the defeat most see. His stories of Haiti’s poor, especially its children in the pediatric hospital and slum schools he directs, reveal  goodness, spiritual strength and wisdom. Here the poor speak, whom Jesus called blessed.

The book’s twenty or so stories introduce us to a land that few of us have a heart to visit, but all of us should learn from.  Most are set in the context of the feasts of the Christian liturgical year, which Fr. Rick says,  “empowers us to make grace present, concretely in our world.”

With poetic insight and faith he tells us about grace present.

Available at www.crossplace.com

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