Thursday, February 23, 2012

Final Days

I’ve been slow at blogging the rest of our trip because of bad internet connections and busy days there.

The weekend was a succession of three great Masses. Anyone that thinks a 10 minute sermon is long ought to try listening to a 45 minute one in Creole. There were many exotic dishes to try at the feast.  I guess I wasn’t careful enough because I had some GI problems afterwards. Shirley got a good look at the kitchen conditions and decided not to eat much. After the Sunday Mass I had the honor of baptizing two babies.

Monday was the highlight of my trip. After being on the parish grounds for most of the past three days we had the opportunity to drive around the area. We started with the local dispensary that cares for minor health problems. We gave them an electronic thermometer and some first aid supplies that were donated. We gave some more of the same supplies to the new home for elderly women that was built with our parish’s donations. When we looked for a supervisor a young women volunteered that she could help us. When her talk seemed strange Fr. Al told us that she was a resident that had gone crazy in the midst of the earthquake. The building is small but is home to 8 women and serves lunch to others like the elderly blind man we met. Bernard was our translator for the day. He wants to go to college and study English but needs assistance since his father died in the earthquake.
Next we went to Goiun and met some of the people that go to the small chapel made of palm branches there.  A priest comes to the several chapels served by the parish once or twice a month for Sunday Mass. Building a permanent chapel here is Fr. Herve’s next goal. The parishioners took us to some of their homes which are in the foothills. A lady grabbed each of Shirley’s hands as we walked the cow paths along the steep slopes. We saw a typical mud hut that is smaller than most of our bedrooms that is home to 6 people. A man knocked down some coconuts and opened them with a machete for us. We had a good laugh as an older lady tried to teach Shirley a Haitian shimmy. We saw two more chapels; one was also a palm branch cathedral that hopes to start a better building by their tenth anniversary later this year.
That evening we went to a beautiful beach.  Haiti does not attract the tourists that other Caribbean islands do because of the lack of adequate services and the instability of the poor nation.
Tuesday we visited some of the students again, handing out toothbrushes and a couple of soccer balls that lit up the eyes of the young ones. Then we headed back to Port au Prince. Slowed by town markets that filled the highway and the big city rush hour it took us 5 hours to go 90 miles. We would spend our last night in Haiti in rooms at the national Caritas center which administers many types of Catholic charities. Fr. Herve provided a Valentine meal at a nice restaurant in the company of the national director of Caritas, the Chancellor and auxiliary bishop of the diocese. It was an American style restaurant but the doorkeeper with the 12 gauge shotgun reminded us we were still in Haiti.
Our trip home was delightfully uneventful and filled with the joy of being on home soil. . It had been great to see the progress we have been a part of in our sister parish. But it was also good to reconnect with the people there and introduce them and their very different world to Shirley, Jim, and Maureen. We look forward to sharing our pictures, videos, and stories.

Deacon Tim

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Main Street, Laborde, Haiti

Bonne Fete!

Saturday morning broke early as raindrops fell pleasantly across the parish grounds.  "The first rain of the year, said Fr. Herve.  It's a blessing from Our Lady!"

The church bell pealed the call to the Solennal Mass for Notre Dame (the solemn mass for Our Lady).  The skies had cleared as the parishioners, dressed in their finest and most festive clothing, made their way to the Mass of Celebration.  Over 700 loyal churchgoers swayed to the calypso beats in praise of Our Lady of Lourdes.  Trumpets, guitars and bongos combined to create a festive spirit appropriate for the celebration at hand.  Deacon Tim spoke with eloquence of the fellowship between St. Lawrence and Our Lady of Lourdes parishes.  Fellow preachers spoke and the service concluded at the end of over three hours.

The over twenty concelebrants of the mass, as well as those involved made way to the parish rectory for a banquet feast of Caribbean delicacies.  Using the French word "convivialitie", Fr. Herve greeted all with the phrase "Bonne Fete!" which proclaimed the "good festival" of Our Lady.


(Left to right:  Deacon Tim, Maureen, Fr. Herve, Mr. Octuvre, Fr. Al, Jim, Shirley)

Festival Time

On Friday night, we began our celebration with an evening vigil.  The event began at the parish nursing home here in Laborde, which is right down the rocky main street from the church.  When we arrived, there was a large handmade sign that read "Bien Vunue Les Visiteurs".  The congregation appears to be happy that we are joining in the celebration, but also very intrigued by our group.  When we arrived at the meeting place, groups had already began to congregate.  When we came in to sight, I felt as though there were hundreds of eyes staring straight at me.  Some of the people embrace us with handshakes, hugs or kisses.  But there were also many that are very timid in addressing us.  It has been interesting to communicate with the Our Lady of Lourdes community from both sides, but overall I feel very welcome here in Laborde.

From our meeting place we processed through town to the church.  I would estimate it was about a 15 minute walk, timed perfectly with the setting sun.  By the time we arrived at the church steps, our entire group had ignited our candles and concluded the chanting.  We filled the church and went on with the service.  Over twenty priests were in attendance to concelebrate the mass.  The participation of all involved was truly inspiring.

After church, we retreated to the rectory where we were invited to join the priests and others for a feast of goat stew and cold Prestige (Haitian beer).  What a party!  Also, what made the stew particularly poignant was that the goat himself was part of our welcoming party just four short days ago.  Talk about a host that is willing to give it all!


Saturday, February 11, 2012

Sisters of Charity

When Fr. Herve suggested a day trip to Les Cayes, my initial thought was a trip to the Sisters of Charity was a definite must.  Having visited before, I felt very touched, and was hoping to share the experience with our group.  

Upon arrival at the compound, we were met by the jovial Sister Superior.  Even though we came unannounced, she was warm and very willing to show us around the grounds.  We spent about 45 minutes walking from department to department.  Orphaned children from the 2012 earthquake, handicapped children and adults who had been abandoned, and the poorest of the poor whom have been affected by many terrible diseases.  She even described that children are commonly dropped off at their front gate.  One image that sticks in my mind is one worker feeding nearly twelve babies less than a year old, all on the floor waiting eagerly for the spoon to reach their mouths.  The work and compassion of these Sisters is absolutely amazing.  Through her tour and narrative, it was definitely apparent that this truly is a place where miracles happen.


Heartache and Joy

Thursday, Friday and Saturday were days of heartache and joy.  Fr. Herve took us to Mother Teresa's orphanage and care center ran by the Sisters of Charity.  The love and compassion extended to those dying of TB and AIDS and the gratitude of those afflicted was a profound experience.  The needs of orphaned and challenged children gives witness to recognizing charity as fundamental in our lives.

The school of Our Lady of Lourdes shows the spirit and potential of this island.  To see the parish gather for the feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes and raise a joys song of celebration and thanksgiving was unforgettable.  Fr. Herve is in charge of a special place.


Haiti Revealed

My wake up call this morning was the chorus of the dogs barking, the birds chirping, the rooster crowing... followed by the fresh, crisp sound of the church bells.  It was around 6:00 a.m., not so early but so different from waking up in Carroll.  There was a sense of peace and tranquility as I welcomed the dawning of a new day in Haiti.  The silence was broken only by the soulful and harmonious songs in church by the priest and people attending mass.  Their voices sounds celestial and very soothing.  The early morning spiritual songs reminded me so much of my experiences in the past when I have visited convents and monasteries; what a refreshing, peaceful and joyful way of starting out a new day.

After breakfast of typical Haitian food, our morning was spent at our sister parish's Catholic school.  We met with the teachers and saw the conditions of the classrooms and the needs of the students, but most of all, we watched the joyful and enthusiastic faces of the children as they sang songs for us after we gave them candies and chocolates.  Though the buildings in the school grounds are viable places to teach and learn, they do not offer much space and comfort to the students.  The classrooms are well ventilated and not air-conditioned, because there were open-air doors and windows.  There was only basic furniture to be seen, like a small teachers desk, an old fashion chalkboard and rugged student desks.  There are usually two to three students to each desk.  Seeing this situation first hand makes me feel so blessed and grateful to have so many gifts and amenities and life from God, but it also humbles me to think that these poor people are much more deserving to have all the extras to enjoy, but do not really need.

Right away, electricity was turned off right after the bells rang this morning.  So the cold shower was a welcome relief from the heat.  This afternoon was spent driving through Les Cayes (a nearby town), where we visited the infirmary and orphanage ran by the Sisters of Charity (founded by Mother Teresa of Calcutta).  Again, in spite of the clean and poor condition of the facility, the orphans, the handicapped and the sick people (mostly with AIDS) seemed joyful with their big smiles and friendly "hellos".

Our evening was concluded with a dinner at the beach under the canopy of stars and bright golden moon. This day was a day of discovery and of strengthening our ties and friendship with our sister parish.  Tomorrow, we will bring more revelation and I just can't wait!