There she stands, wounded and cracked, after having been through absolute hell for the long, bitter days of 2010.
Familiar words ring true here: “ The gates of hell shall not prevail against her” – try as they might.
She is cracked and broken in places, and held up by struts, inside and out, that look like crutches. A Church on crutches! A fitting image in a country where so many people were left limping, or limbless- or worse.
There she stands, leaning in welcome. St Philomena chapel. She has received hundreds of dead, and has been washed with rivers of tears. Within her walls have been offered the timeless consolation and advice of the scriptures, and the unquenchable power of the sacraments, morning after morning, throughout a year of nightmares.
On her right side, tucked tenderly against her wall, many dead from the earthquake are buried. On her left side, tucked tenderly against the wall, many dead from cholera are buried. Some of them are buried in my own clothes, when they have come to us crushed and filthy and in rags. It’s sobering to lower your own clothes six feet under, with someone else in them.
What do they have in common, the dead from the earthquake and the dead from cholera? They were gone in a flash. No time to prepare. We help them often with our prayers.
What else do they have in common? A dignified place, unlike hundreds of thousands of others, to wait for the last judgement. A dignified place, in the shadow of this house of God, within a few meters of her sacred altar, from which to remind us of the Church in heaven, whose help we desperately need.
Home. They are home. Pray for us from there. Welcome me when I am finally the one in my own clothes, when they are lowered into the tender earth.
There she stands, humble and firm, to receive our small faith community into the new year of grace, 2011. “In the name of the Father and of the Son”….the new mass, the first of 2011, begins.
Yes, it is exactly the word. Grace. A new year of grace.
More than recounting the horrors and wounds of the last earth voyage around the sun, we start the new year appreciating what has been revealed and unveiled, the mystery (what stands behind the veil), of 2010.
It was a year that revealed God near to us, so near in suffering, God using my arms and yours, my feet and yours, my anguished heart and yours to run to those whose voices no one else hears or pays attention to.
It was unbelievable, the worldwide solidarity, not only the sending of money and resources we needed desperately, but coming personally to help.
Who could not notice and be astounded at the many works of relief and reconstruction that God worked among us- not only walls and schools, but limbs and souls. Who could not see the new birth God worked among us, the chance for children like Pompe, Meread and Eddison not only to be saved from literal death to have a new life in Austria, and to belong to a person (like Natalie), to a place (like Austria), and to time (like childhood)..
It’s a huge transformation, to go from being a near dead nobody to belonging to person, place and time. It is the power of love. The power of one. The power of one who cares.
It was a year that revealed to us what we are made of, strength we never knew we had- an ability to bind wounds while we ourselves were wounded, to offer hope when you could only hope to even have hope , to be steady and calm in overwhelming tragedy.
I think of Erin Kloos, who barely survived when our old hospital fell on her and killed her brother Ryan. Erin is in medical school, and on her Christmas break last month offered to come and help us with cholera. She asked if she would be safe, she needed the answer for her anxious mom and dad who already lost their son to altruism in Haiti.
I told Erin if she stays with us she will possibly get cholera, and if she goes on the streets she will be stoned in the riots. No, it is not safe to come.
Erin booked her ticket. She assured me she would bring doxycycline in case she got cholera- and, as for the riots, since a whole building fell on her once and she lived, she wasn’t worried a whole lot about people throwing sticks and stones.
Where does our strength come from? You have got to admire it. It brings tears to your eyes, like when Fr. Craig Hightower came to Haiti right after the earthquake to pick up where his beloved niece and our beloved volunteer Molly left off when she was not as lucky as Erin. A few weeks before she died in the earthquake, Molly started a shoe drive in the USA for the children in our orphanage. After her death, her friends and countless strangers were determined to make Molly’s wish come true. Imagine the visit of Molly’s family to Haiti, after her death, to celebrate mass with us where she died, bringing with them hundreds of thousands of shoes for the children of Haiti.
I think of Sister Judy, carrying on shell shocked but nobly, even accepting to administrate the damaged and overwhelmed hospital, after walls fell around her and on top of her and other sister companions were killed. Imagine Dr Manuel Castro returning from Cuba where we airlifted his crushed body, to help us again. How does Pierre, and so many Haitians, find the strength to get up everyday and plow ahead after losing their entire family? They are heroes. There is no other word.
I think of Jerome, dying before me as I write. We have done our best to doctor him, nurse him, care for him. He is doing more than his best to fight cholera and typhoid- an amazing determination- especially after having lost half his children “en ba lekomb” as the dreaded creole phrase has it, “under the rubble of the earthquake.”
I am very sad to see Jerome die. Life has been so unfair to him. He is valiant. But his intestines are perforated from typhoid, and diseased with cholera. Just now he said to Conan, “I will die tomorrow.” It is finished. He can’t fight any more. I am honored to have meet such a man. I feel like nothing next to him.
So, yes, it is true- a sad year has shown us almost nothing but greatness. The greatness of God, the greatness of the friend and of the stranger, the greatness inside of us.
The year has shown us that if you have even a bit of health and even one friend, and if you have even a little faith, there is nothing, nothing, nothing else required for your happiness- now and eternally.
A new years resolution: I will earn how to take better pictures. But for now, the attached is the best I can do. St Philomena Chapel. Even if the picture were dark and blurred, she stands for the best about us, the best about life, and the wonder of God.
May all that she stands for shine brightly in us throughout this new year of grace, and give us joy, and the peace beyond all understanding.
God’s blessing on you and your families, God’s blessing on us all, in 2011!
Fr Rick Frechette
January 1, 2011
Port au Prince