Stories from Haiti: Heartbreak and hope
Priest leaves dying mother, Jesuits venture
into neighborhood to help
(CNS) -- Passionist Father Rick Frechette, the Haiti-based director of medical services for Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos International, was at home in New Jersey with his dying mother when the magnitude 7 earthquake hit Port-au-Prince Jan. 12.
“I was determined to stay with her to the end, especially since my whole adult life I have been far from home in the foreign missions,” he wrote in a letter posted on the Web site of the Passionists’ St. Paul of the Cross province. But when news of the devastating quake arrived, Gerri Frechette told her son: “You have to go. The problems there are worse than mine.”
After a plane ride from New York to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and a lift in a helicopter belonging to the president of the Dominican Republic, Father Frechette arrived in Port-au-Prince Jan. 14 to a series of what he called “sadnesses” -- including 18 funerals that first day.
“One for John who works at our St. Luke program,” he wrote in a Jan. 15 e-mail. “We miss John very much. He often stopped at my door to tell me the milestone of his developing baby, which delighted him no end. ... Another was for Johanne’s mother. Johanne is one of the directors of the St. Luke program. All the others were of unknown people who were sadly rotting by the wayside. ...
“Other stories of deaths of people who are dear to us keep coming in,” he said.
The St. Luke program operates street schools in the poorest slums of Port-au-Prince.
In an interview with NBC News late Jan. 14, Father Frechette said one of the worst things about celebrating funerals after the earthquake is knowing that the survivors “have to go to the cemetery with their picks and shovels to bury their own dead.”
Father Frechette, a doctor of osteopathic medicine, oversees St. Damien Chateaublond pediatric hospital; the Father Wasson Center, where educational and rehabilitative services are provided at the site of the former pediatric hospital; and St. Helene orphanage, which housed more than 350 children.
Although the orphanage was not significantly damaged, the seven-story Father Wasson Center collapsed and “about half the outer perimeter walls (of St. Damien’s) have fallen,” the priest said.
Jesuits, in shock but OK, head into neighborhood to help
(CNS) -- “The tremor caught me by surprise in front of our residence in the Canape-Vert neighborhood. We are in shock but otherwise OK,” said Jesuit Father Kawa Francois in an e-mail to Canadian Jesuits.
Father Francois, the order’s novice master in Haiti, said the Jesuits from Port-au-Prince’s Canape-Vert neighborhood spent the night after the Jan. 12 earthquake in their residence’s courtyard, where a strong aftershock woke them around midnight. The residence itself was only slightly damaged, but neighboring homes were completely destroyed.
“We went out to help our neighbors who are in distress. They stayed with us overnight in our garden,” he continued. “What we have seen is indescribable; there are dead people everywhere and in every neighborhood of the city houses have been destroyed. I saw houses and walls fall in front of me.”
Father Francois said he received word from a group of novices who were on a 30-day retreat at a different residence that they were all alive and well, but understandably in shock.
In another e-mail update Jan. 14 Father Francois’ tone became more urgent.
“The situation is becoming increasingly critical in Port-au-Prince,” he wrote. “The people have nothing; water, food, covers, tents. They are sleeping in the streets. They are in shock and are afraid to go into their homes. The hygiene situation is deteriorating and rapid intervention is needed to avoid a humanitarian disaster.”
Father Francois said he ventured out into the neighborhood to view the damage and met Archbishop Bernadito Auza, the apostolic nuncio to Haiti. That was how he was informed that Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot of Port-au-Prince had been killed in the quake and Msgr. Charles Benoit, vicar general, was believed dead as well.
Father Francois ended his latest letter with relatively good news, saying he had been able to locate a priest, Father Derino Sanfairiste, who had been missing.
“The debris of a large building fell on the car he was in,” he wrote, adding that the community was thinking of sending the injured man to the Dominican Republic for treatment.
Courage of Haitians ‘starts young,’
says U.S. nun who nursed hundreds
(CNS) -- Sister Mary Finnick, a nurse who directs the Matthew 25 House in the Delmas 33 area of Port-au-Prince, found that “the courage of the Haitian people starts young” when she opened an impromptu triage and treatment center in a nearby soccer field after the quake.
“The children, though crying, did not have temper tantrums and cooperated as much as is possible for a 3-year-old when you make a splint, clean out a head wound and debride backs and legs,” the Grey Nun of the Sacred Heart reported in a Jan. 13 e-mail.
“In all of this, we also hear the Haitian voices raised in song, praising God for being alive,” she added.
Sister Mary said she, two other Matthew 25 staff members, six guests from Pennsylvania and New York, and three Haitian doctors treated 300-400 people in the hours after the magnitude 7 earthquake.
“We began to see some very horrible conditions caused primarily from the cement blocks, which most of the houses are built with, poor and rich alike,” she wrote. “There were many head wounds, some so serious it surprised us the person was still alive. Most were deep wounds that should have been sutured, but we had no material to do that.”
When supplies ran out, “we finally cut up pillowcases for bandages,” Sister Mary reported.
Matthew 25 House, established in 2005 by the Nashville, Tenn.,-based Parish Twinning Program of the Americas, provides hospitality to North Americans who come to Haiti with the twinning program or with other missionary or humanitarian organizations.
Although the downstairs of the house experienced no structural damage, Sister Mary said, the upper floors had more damage and “the wall between us and the neighbor has quite a large hole.” But she encouraged medical teams that had been scheduled to come to Haiti not to change their plans.
“There is a great need for medical supplies, suturing, betadine, analgesics ... everything ... and personnel to bring it,” she said.
Sister mourns for cousin who was archbishop;
bank works to stay open
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Here is a collection of more vignettes about the effect of the Haitian earthquake on people’s lives.
A Haitian sister mourns the loss of her archbishop cousin
The last time Sister Marie Bruno saw her cousin, Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot, it was just for a minute or two on the street in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in July.
“I didn’t spend much time with him,” Sister Bruno told Catholic News Service Jan. 20 about the brief encounter with the archbishop, who was killed in the country’s devastating earthquake. “We were busy. He was in meetings. He was actively supporting the Year for Priests.”
The archbishop died when he was hurled from the balcony at his residence by the force of the temblor and landed headfirst on the ground, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, papal nuncio to Haiti, reported in an e-mail to CNS.
Sister Bruno, a member of the Daughters of Mary, left Haiti without seeing her 63-year-old cousin again. She returned to the U.S. to continue her work at St. Brigid Parish in Westbury, N.Y., home to a burgeoning Haitian community on Long Island.
Since the Jan. 12 quake, Sister Bruno has tried to comfort the Haitians who lost family members and friends.” Many people came to me to say ‘I lost five people. I lost three,’ she said.
At the same time, Sister Bruno harbors a deepening concern for her family in Haiti. She has not heard from any relatives since the earthquake.
As for her order, Sister Bruno said 17 sisters died, including the provincial superior, Sister Marie Bernadette Hillaire. Several others were injured. Still more remain missing. But she presses on with her work in New York, her home for the last seven years.
“But we are praying,” she said. “We can only be silent because it is God’s will. We don’t know if it’s for a better life in Haiti. We try to keep quiet and to pray.”
Chinese Catholics, remembering quakes,
gather funds for Haiti
HONG KONG (CNS) -- Catholic aid agencies in China and Taiwan, still haunted by images of their own past earthquakes, are raising money for Haiti’s quake victims.
Austin Ou Chin-jen, director of the Taiwan Catholic Mission Foundation, told the Asian church news agency UCA News that the Catholic Church in his country plans to help Haitian children with education. He said Taiwan’s Catholics know the problems facing children only too well, having learned them after the 1999 quake -- magnitude 7.6 -- which resulted in more than 2,100 deaths and more than 8,700 injuries.
In mainland China, Catholics are calling on Internet users to donate money and pray for the victims of the Jan. 12 quake in Haiti.
In Shijiazhuang, Father Paul Han Qingping, deputy director of the Catholic-run Jinde Charities, told UCA News, “Unlike the (2008) quake in Sichuan, where we could go to the front line to serve, this time we can only send donations we received through our Caritas partners.” The magnitude 7.9 earthquake in China’s Sichuan province left about 70,000 people dead. Jinde Charities was one of the first agencies that sent workers to help. Ou told UCA News he is also tapping the Chinese diaspora for help.