Passionist Fr. Rick Frechette is a physician who has worked in
Haiti for 18 years. He has set up a large orphanage called
Ste. Helene, and a pediatric hospital, St. Damien Children's
Hospital, both missions of the international organization called
Friends of the Orphans.
PRINCE, Haiti -- Yesterday, I sat on a hot rock on a hot
road in the hot sun in a hot slum for nearly an hour trying to
get my senses back. I don’t remember ever being so sad and
tired, so sick of it all, so overcome with feelings of
hopelessness and futility. That the rock was in the middle of
the infamous Cite Soleil is not exactly a sideline to the story.
Even the United Nations is afraid to go there, as are the 2
million inhabitants of Port au Prince. I was there to answer a
simple question. Can you or can’t you trust in the basic
goodness of human beings? I had always believed you could, but
now I was in doubt. And it wasn’t just a red truck, but even my
vocation, that hung in the balance.
It all started
Sunday, when we were bitten by the ancient serpent of evil. It
was a nasty bite. Our whole little troop was kidnapped from the
cemetery at Drouillard, as they set out to bury a small child
who died in our hospital. Yes, the whole troop, even the small
dead body -- gone in a minute with a band of thugs.
Then the troop
was broken up. The grieving mother was pulled violently from the
red truck that serves as our hearse. She was robbed and harassed
and threatened and then told to run for her life, bullets
ringing out after her. Frantically she ran, like a rabid dog,
terrorized, not even knowing where to go and having no idea if
and where her precious child would be laid to rest. Emmanuel was
hauled back up to the cemetery where he was robbed of the few
dollars he had. He was threatened with death, reproached for
having so little money in his pocket, and sent running for his
life as had been the mother.
Eric and the
dead child were taken in the red truck, deep into the slums at
Drouillard. It seems that someone from the gang suddenly saw by
a human light, and said to their leader, “Boss, he was going to
bury this child. Why don’t let him go and just keep the truck.”
Eric found himself dismissed with a grunt, and, after being
robbed, went walking the few kilometers back to the cemetery in
the hot sun, coffin on his head, heavy with its precious load.
This road was deserted, and he had every reason to fear attack
from any quarter. But, as we all know, the worse attacks for
anyone always come from within.
that abandoned roadway, as he trod his way so carefully, the
serpent bit again. Eric himself being an orphan (from our own
orphans home) and an ex-con (yes, we sometimes fail), suddenly
found himself thinking that I would never believe that he was
kidnapped, and the red truck stolen. Surely, I would see that
story as a cover-up for stealing the truck himself. Tormented by
these thoughts, which grew in strength in the course of the
long, hot day, his mind became more twisted and distorted. So
much so, that when I finally met him for the first time after
his ordeal, he launched a full-scale verbal rage at me, accusing
me of caring nothing for his situation and doing nothing to
I was baffled
and had no idea what he was thinking. In fact, I had gotten the
call that he was kidnapped as I was starting Sunday Mass at our
orphanage in the mountains. By cell phone, I had organized an
army of people to help him. And I was assured by the gang
leaders that he would be released. But none of this would matter
to him, any more than a poem would matter to a raging bull. Now
it was my turn to be doubly stung.
I am not a
stranger to Cite Soleil. We have many involvements there: water
delivery, two schools, clinics, emergency medical help, ice
cream runs for the children, and so on. I had no hesitation
heading there to get to the bottom of this incident with the
gangs. As soon as I arrived, I chose that hot rock in the middle
of the street as the throne of my protest. Two gang leaders came
to talk to me. Why was I on the rock? If I wanted the truck back
why didn’t I just say so? Please go home, we will send the truck
to you before the end of the day. OK, so you refuse to go
without the truck. At least move to the shade until we get it.
We will buy you a Coke.
It wasn’t just
the truck. I was protesting what was done to a dead child, to a
grieving mother, to Eric and Emmanuel, to my whole team, to the
whole country. It wasn’t just a truck.
When I wouldn’t
budge, the leader, Bazo, finally said to me, “Mon Pere, have you
Am I crazy? Are
you sure your question is for me? Your friends kidnap the dead,
and I am the crazy one? Why are you crushing the people? Why?
This poor women, already weighed down by poverty and sorrow, had
this small chance to bury her child with tenderness. And you
smashed her chance. If we didn’t bury this child ourselves, the
body would wind up in the burial ground for the destitute dead,
TiTanyin, where the mass graves are so shallowly dug the dead
become food for dogs and pigs. On top of her poverty and sadness
you heap on terror, and send her running in fear and despair.
And you have the gall to ask me if I am crazy?
The red truck
was rolled up to me, curbside. Complete: battery and jack, radio
and papers, complete. “Here now. Please get out of the sun. They
didn’t know it was one of your trucks. Why don’t you mark all
your trucks a certain way so everyone will know them?” Really.
Do you need to mark even a hearse? Are even the dead not spared
When I finally
got home, I stopped in the chapel for a quiet minute. There in
the corner was Eric, sobbing. I sat next to him and he flooded
with tears. He had heard that I went myself to Cite Soleil for
the truck. So he knew I believed him. He let out his doubt, that
I would ever believe him. Deep sobs. “Eric, you are keeping
yourself in prison now. This kind of thinking will never help
you. It’s no good for you. I love you and I believe in you.
That’s what’s good for you. And you are good for me. For God’s
sake, be free of this twisted thinking.” I took off the simple,
carved cow horn cross I have worn around by neck for many years
and placed it around his neck. No great get as far as jewelry
goes, but I needed to give him a deep sign, something to stay
with him. Then he asked me if I knew what was, for him, the
worse part of the whole ordeal. He explained to me that the
worse part was standing helplessly as a poor, grieving mother
ran off in confusion and anguish. How he wishes he could find
her and help her, and tell her that he saw the funeral all the
way to the end and had buried her little child tenderly. As I
watched his face and listened to his words, my energy returned
to me with a surge.
beings are basically very, very good.
Off to bed. This
is more than enough for one day. But not without reading the
words of a favorite hymn:
“We will run,
and not grow weary, for our God will be our strength,
And we will fly like the eagle, we will rise again.”
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