Message from Fr. Rick Frechette, Friend of St. Louis

Dear Friends,

A floating hospital and a sinking country

As I write these words, the USNS Comfort, a world class hospital ship, is winding down it’s port of call in Haiti.

The fact that it is such a good time for the merciful ship to be in Haiti, is a direct reflection of what a bad time It is for everyone else to be in Haiti.

There is absolutely no one in Haiti unaffected by the present crisis.

It is also evident that the poorer you are, the deeper the devastation to yourself and your family as a result of this crisis, and the slimmer your chance for recovery.

I want to be careful not to rubberneck the tragic circumstances the Haitian people are living through.

Just like when at a roadside accident, quick drive-by gawking by myriads of curious people, often devoid of any desire to urgently help, has the effect of clogging traffic and interfering with rescue, similarly I do not want, by these words, to be part of the “rubbernecking” of Haiti.

To do so would be to just list the innumerable shocking tragedies and hardships, and stop there.

It would give a false impression that the people are prone to violence, that nothing can ever improve here, and that there is no hope. I especially do not want to give this impression, that there is no hope.

To know what to do next requires first a steady, courageous, penetrating gaze, from an inner place of silence and equilibrium, a gaze that alternates between being focused and broad.

In the broad views, we would notice at once how many countries, around the world, are suffering from popular uprisings and huge inner and bitter divisions. Rising and exclusive nationalism, blatant racism, alarming discrimination based on race, creed, class, color, and gender, are leading whole populations to boiling points.

When you add to this a social pathology making its appearance in the world, represented by large scale suicide, escalating drug addiction, wider and deeper revelations of sexual abuse, human trafficking, and domestic terrorism and mass shootings, and the epidemic of depression, the boiling pot becomes a bomb.

What is worse, when someone is who is living this reality, rather than hearing balanced views, sensible discussions, advice from trusted peers or authority, and rather than participating in enlightening dialogue leading to practical steps out of the crisis, to the contrary, hear angry and toxic public opinions, and through media (mainstream and social) that often prefers to stoke the fires, defame indiscriminately, foment division and hatred, spread false news and blatant lies, and incite violence, it becomes every more confusing and disorienting.

Under the circumstances, it is hard to learn how to “be the change we would like to see”, guided by the “better angels of our nature.”

As is the case in Haiti, the cause of the many of the uprisings are huge frustrations because life is ever more difficult to live.

Devaluated local currency, skyrocketing inflation, increased malnutrition and widespread hunger, astounding unemployment, reports of massive corruption in political leaders, spell out death in clear letters.

Life is impossible, absolutely impossible, the way things are now. Change is demanded.

It happens often in life that the growing energy around change can get kidnapped by political, religious, or business interests- or also by organized crime.

In our circumstances, roads are often barricaded, burning and dangerous.  People are prisoners of their homes or neighborhoods. Port au Prince is cut off from the Provinces, and vice versa of course.

Businesses and banks are often closed and frequently attacked.  Schools have not been able to open since September, and anyone who tries to defy the opposition by opening the school knows very well what they will face.

The sick cannot get to hospitals, nor can oxygen, or fuel, or supplies, or even the doctors.

Fruit of the gardens and farms cannot reach the city. They rot on docks and in trucks.

Hunger is the problem of the majority, malnutrition is rising sharply. We are on the verge of civil war.

There are guns in the hands of thousands. They are enormous guns of war.

Garbage is all over the gangster infested streets, and criminal are operative at every level of the
Social and political order.

Our emergency rooms and our morgue tell the story of the streets, and of the country: the skeletal children, the motorcycle drivers who did not see the wire strung neck high cross the barricades, the people pelted with rocks and broken bottles that bruise, tear and break them, the victims full of bullet entry and exit wounds.

It is as if there are no longer healthy inhibitions and controls that could keep the worse things about us in check.

What happened to the moral, social, civic, and legal imperatives that helped to subvert our destructive tendencies?

Instead, in this era, all tendencies, even the most wicked, have free reign.

Are we witnessing, in Haiti and beyond, the end of civilized ways of living?

In the United States, the vast majority of people are anguished by so much suicide, drug addiction, violence, statesmanship by mudslinging, and divisiveness.

They would change all of this in a minute, if they could.

But they cannot.

So much of it is beyond reach.

Most people are victims of this deep malaise, and are struggling to learn how to become agents of change.

It is the same with the people of Haiti. They do not agree at all with what is happening to the country.

But they don’t see how to change the poverty, the joblessness, the corruption, and the violence that gets turned on and off like a water fawcett.

They are also struggle to learn how to be agents of change.

Today, having had to travel twice to the port and downtown Port au Prince,
It is no exaggeration to say Grand Rue and the main market are like war zones.

Gunfire near and far, everything burned and destroyed, -and we also had guns pulled on us.

It is unnerving to put it mildly.

But the people who we were called to help were some innocent victims of gunshots,
And two women that dropped from exhaustion (they literally just dropped dead),
And two that were already dead on the streets and need to be buried.

And yet, when the protagonists of this violence give the people a few violent free days, to buy food and water, and go to church, you see these same streets fill with vibrant colors of clothing, vegetable, and fruits and goods.

Suddenly, like after a rain in a desert, a surge of life.

You see the sandal maker making soles out of old tires,
you see old people wandering to find food and greet friends,
you see mothers and children walking carefully through the mud, carrying a rag to wipe their shoes clean when they arrive where they are going.
You see the sick being brought in wheelbarrows for help.
You see the man who makes tools by heating old rebar to red hot, by stoking a flame in a tire rim as he rides a stationery bike with a spinning fan instead of a wheel, blowing air through an old car muffler into the rim, heating he iron plate laid on top of the tire rim, on which the rebar becomes pliable- and swords can be beaten into pruning hooks.

(And he does this, on the street, in 95 degree heat.)

You see life return right away, and with a flare.
What a great feeling it is to see it, and to work hard to protect and strength it.

We will be spending the next few days, getting medicines and food and supplies to a few choked off hospitals in the provinces.

We will also bring oxygen, and fuel.

We will do this by tugboat, to bypass all the gang infested road blocks.

We are able to help because for us Christmas came early for us: The US Comfort gifted us with 105 pallets of medicines and supplies. This blessing now will be shared. The loaves and the fishes will be multiplied.

Together, at Nos Petits Freres and Soeurs, and the St Luke Foundation, we make our own revolution. The revolution of being caring people, who stay together in good times and bad, in sickness and health, for better and for worse. We are family. We are God’s family. All people of the earth.

Will you join our revolution?

We have not given up on Haiti, or on our world. We are full of hope, and eager to keep the fire of hope kindling good and helpful action.

Please don’t give up on us, either.

You help is more needed than ever, and adds grace upon grace to the great work we are doing together for God’s glory and the betterment of God’s people.

Fr Rick Frechette CP DO
Port au Prince
November 11, 2019

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