The Scourge of Cholera

Fr. Rick Frechette, CP in the St. Philomena Chapel at NPH Haiti St. Damien Pediatric Hospital. Photo taken by Douglas Ford Rea

Fr. Rick Frechette, CP, in the St. Philomena Chapel at NPH Haiti St. Damien Pediatric Hospital.
Photo taken by Douglas Ford Rea.

The morning mass is always attended by the dead. If their number goes above ten, there are more dead at mass than living.

I have a practice of going to get the dead. I don’t mean just before mass, going to bring their bodies to the chapel floor, to cover them with palls.

But in my mind, I go to find them.

This makes me very mindful of them personally during their requiem mass, especially since it is a daily event, in order for the mass not to become just a routine.

So, I go and get the dead.

To do this, I travel inside of my mind to find them, I imagine the moment of their death, and I try to see them at that moment and show them compassion.

I imagine their un-readiness to die, their confusion and fear, their regrets about their lives. I imagine those they are leaving behind and their desire to cling to them. I try to imagine the dreams undreamt, their lives unlived, the love not yet shared, the joys cut short.

And then I speak to them, as a brother, a friend, a priest, a fellow pilgrim, and I wish them the deep assurance of faith, the light of God, the comfort of heavenly embraces, the trust that Providence will see to their cares on earth. And then the mass begins.

The other day, among the bodies, were two little coffins. The families of these two little ones were present. And as the rhythmic lament of the kyrie began, so did unrhythmic  sobbing of the mothers.

As the deliverance songs were sung to the sway of incense and the sprinkling of holy water, so did other choruses of tears and wailing override the liturgy, and lead to a ferocious display of grief.

It lasted so long that I had one thought,

“At the end of the mass when we open the coffins, I want to see the faces of these children who generated so much love in their short lives. They must have been wonderful to produce such grief.”

The sacrament finished, and the eulogies given, we braced ourselves for the new onset of lament that always accompanies the opening of the coffins.

I gazed at the tender young faces, that had not even known five years of life, and I was pierced by their deep sunken eyes.

Cholera, again.

Cholera the thief,

Cholera the criminal, the stealer of life.

Cholera which can be avoided, treated,

and even driven away.

If you are lucky, that is.

Lucky enough to have clean water, proper community septic systems, humane living environments, access to healthcare.

Here were two unlucky ones,

off to heaven to show God their sunken eyes

and look into His radiant ones,

leaving the hearts of their families torn asunder.

They came to us too late, too sick or already dead.

Cholera is alive and well. These two small children are the latest ones to prove it.

With regret and indignation, let’s agree to keep fighting it with all our might.

May these small children rest in peace, and may their souls before God work tender comfort of their mothers and fathers, their brothers and sisters, their families and friends.

Fr. Rick Frechette, CP

October 3, 2013

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