From Fr. Rick Frechette, CP:
Dear Friends and Family,
Many of you have been keenly interested in how things are after Hurricane Matthew.
I was out of Haiti for one week, since September 25, to give a retreat for priests in Connecticut, at Holy Family Monastery, and to attend a very brief event at La Scala Theater in Milan- to benefit our children’s hospital in Haiti, St Damien Hospital.
Matthew changed its course over the next days and headed again for Haiti, so I cut the 3 day trip short one day, and travelled to Santo Domingo. Staff from Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos, Dominican Republic, picked me up, and after a brief rest at their house we drove for five hours through very heavy rain and lightning, to the border with Haiti, at Malpasse.
It was windy, dark and rainy, and Raphael was already waiting for me 1 kilometer away at the Haitian side of the border. The border was closed, and we were the only vehicles on the road and I the only person to cross the closed border- thanks to the help of contacts on both sides of the border. It seems no one wants to drive into a hurricane. I didn’t either, but it was my place to be back with everyone else and shoulder whatever was coming together. I crossed the kilometer of barren land between the two borders on a small motorcycle, drenched in rain, holding a big umbrella, my luggage on my knees. It was the only way.
There was a lot of flooding and damage in Port au Prince. We spend the day delivering water, food and supplies to the many areas in the slums where we work. We were taking from our storerooms everything we had available to help the people were identified as needing urgent help.
We have no news at all of our schools and our staff in Les Cayes, Jacmel or Jeremie. What is worse, the bridge near Leogane was washed away so there is no way at the moment to reach these places. My team will find a way to visit our staffs and be sure everyone is alright, and see what we need to gather help. The other team will take longer, because in addition to visiting and assessing, they will plan the all the strategies with the local teams.
We just need to figure out how to cross a downed bridge, but we will.
We will keep you posted.
Thank you for your friendship, support and prayers.
Fr Rick Frechette
From Fr. Enzo del Brocco, CP:
Our first attempt yesterday to fly out to Jeremie, was aborted after ten minutes due to bad weather. We were able to fly out by helicopter this morning to reach Dame Marie, La Serengue (Abricot) and Jeremie which are all places where the St Luke Foundation for Haiti is present with schools and clinics. We also planned to visit Les Cayes and De Varennes, but the weather conditions and the amount of fuel at our disposal for the helicopter, prevented us from doing so. The team flying today included Nebez, the director of the St. Luke Foundation, Raphael, member of the St. Luke team, the St. Luke photographer, Julmane. Msgr. Decoste, Bishop of Jeremie, who was in Port-au-Prince for a bishop’s meeting when the hurricane hit, was not able to reach his diocese. He felt very bad like the shepherd away from his flock.
Communication with these areas has been totally interrupted since the hurricane, and we had not heard at all from our staff in those areas. Even the bishop who was traveling with us did not know what conditions we would find as all communication had been cut off with his diocese. In fact, we had to go by helicopter because the main bridge to go to the southwest part of Haiti was washed away by the hurricane. Planes can’t land currently either as the airstrip in Jeremie is full of mud.
On the way to Jeremie today rain was hitting the windshield of the helicopter, and we started to worry that we had to abort again. 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. What struck me immediately 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.
When we arrived to Dame Marie, we saw houses spread throughout the vegetation without their roofs, and the rivers grown three times their size. It was heartbreaking. As we were approaching Dame Marie, it was hard to understand even what we were looking at from the helicopter. We could see the roof of the parish church and many of the houses, blown away, 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. More than bringing food, blankets, clothes or water, I think 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. When we left, they know that we will return because of the relationship we have built there with the local community.
Nebez and Raphael met with the mayor and leaders of the local community to understand the needs so to better organize and gave them a donation for immediate food and water supplies for the next several days until we can return. They also went to visit our St Luke School in Dame Marie, which has lost its roof in the hurricane.
The church in Dame Marie and saw the church had the roof completely torn off and the benches scattered and blown apart throughout the church. We visited the community hospital. I cried as I saw people laying on the floor crying and abandoned. While we were walking with the Bishop, 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.
From Dame Marie we took off to go to La Serengue (Abricot) to visit the community which is home of the St Luke foundation St Augustine school, recently inaugurated in the past year. When we approached by air and saw the school roof blown away, it really broke our heart. Thank God the water tower remained standing, as did the guest house that is under construction. When we arrived on the field, people from every corner came jumping, singing and clapping their hands, calling Nebez their “papa”. Walking with them up to the school, we could see the poor houses made of mud and wood washed away. Only one person died in the community there, thank God.
When we arrived to the school, despite the roof that was blown off, seeing the building still strong and holding as founded on a strong rock, we all just clapped our hands. We only had 20 minutes on the ground. Nebez quickly organized the people, and gave a great talk inviting the people to live this moment as the first Christian community, sharing everything among themselves and staying together through this as a family. In fact in these next days they will prepare and eat meals all together at the school. Thank God that our school building is there! The roof may be knocked off of the second floor, but from the first floor the building continues to serve and unite the community in this moment of emergency.
After this, we returned to the helicopter and took off to Jeremie. While we were flying over Jeremie, we saw the cathedral completely open on the top. The roof had been blown off. 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.
We headed back to Port au Prince and now we have begun to plan our actions to take in the next few days, including with Dr. Augustin, the head of St. Luke Medical, and Fr. Rick.
In closing, 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 image of the Patroness of our Congregation is painted on the side of our new residence, which bears her name. This 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, CP,
St Luke Foundation
Passionisti Haiti Mission of Our Lady of Sorrows