Tag Archives: Fr.Rick Frechette

Haiti: Best of Times, Worst of Times

W received word from Fr. Rich Frechette, CP:

“Since the day after hurricane Matthew, we have been scrambling to respond to many pleas for help, mostly from friends.

One of those pleas has been a pretty continuous call from Fr David Fontaine, a brother priest who was begging for help for three cut off and isolated areas: D’Asile, Grand Boucan and Baraderes.

While traveling to Abricot (Jeremy)  and Dame Marie in the days right after Matthew to reach our staffs there, (even cutting our way through the fallen trees to get there), I was on the email constantly trying to get a helicopter to reach Fr David and his flock in these three places. 

Three days ago, after one aborted effort to get to D’Asile by land, we were finally able to get there with food and water- after two blown truck tires and getting stuck in the mud in two different river crossings.

Yesterday I decided that since I still cannot get a helicopter, we would try to reach Grand Boucan and Baraderes by boat.

We have already lost one of our caravans to brigands, who robbed us at gunpoint at Carrefour Charles at Corail, as we headed to Pestel. 

When Charles Dickens started his Tale of Two Cities with the warning: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” he sure knew what he was talking about.

In the extremes of times, both the best and the worse are very much present. You can see around you saints and angels, demons and hell, and also the usual herd of apathetics.

Interestingly enough, of these three groups, God seems to like the apathetics least.  He says:

“15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to vomit you out of my mouth.” (Rev 3:15-16)

I think the logic of God’s opinion on this, is that because people who make choices for evil still have passion, (which apathetic people lack), and passion at least has the possibility of becoming passionate for Good. 

When push comes to shove, God prefers bad people to apathetic ones. They can still be redeemed.

So yesterday we loaded up 500 sacks of rice and 500 sacks of water (with 60 small bags/sack) and headed toward Petit Trou de Nippes, where we would sleep at the parish house and head off in boats this morning.

At 10pm last night, we were nearly at the parish house when, in front of a very small village, two tires of the heavy truck exploded. The village people were first scared, and then smiled, thinking what luck that this truck destined for somewhere else was now their bounty.

They first came and stood around in large numbers. This truck was contracted just for this trip, and the driver did not have a lug wrench or a jack. We had to send some of our team on motorcycle to find some “tire men” who might have the right size gear.

In the middle of nowhere, this took about 2 hours. During that time, some armed young people came to make their claim.

We were completely in their hands.

And then two things happened. 

A little girl names Guerlande, who has been at our children’s hospital for heart disease, recognized Fr Enzo and called out to him. 

The armed men saw the sick girl approach and embrace the priest. 

At the same time, Raphael recognized one of the bandits as being from his old neighborhood. Raphael took out a little rum, shared it, and then stories of childhood flowed.

We were delivered.

Finally reaching the parish house, itself a victim of Matthew, Fr Luckson gave us small mattresses, so we could lay down and try to sleep (and get chewed up by mosquitos). 

Before I got my mat, i was invited by Lukson into the church. He said he wanted to show me something. 

He explained the church was built in the 1600’s, pretty much by accident. Ships passing this area to build the Cathedral in Jeremy became grounded there, and so they decided to build a midpoint warehouse on the spot. The place later became a little town, graced by a Church. The Church of the Nativity.

And there over the altar, an original painting of Leonardo Da Vinci, of the babe in swaddling clothes with his mother and father. 

The painting has become so weathered and worn, if a museum procurator were to see it, she would have a heart attack on the spot. (And as I am sure you suspect, there are no defibrillators in Petit Trou de Nippes.)

A beautiful baby, born in darkness and starkness. 

We set out early in the morning for the boats we rented by phone contact. We had no idea of their size, age, or seaworthiness.

We soon saw the leaks could be easily bailed by bucket, and that two trips using three boats a trip would do it for all that rice and water.

We started loading the boats. The first began to tilt and rock. It looked like it would tip over. All the people watching cheered.

This was a second group to think that the voyage was not possible, and so the bounty theirs.

After a while we went sputtering across the bay to Grand Boucan, to deliver the food to isolated victims of Matthew.

As soon as the boat launched, the small crew took condoms out of their pockets.

Good God. What now?

The opened them, rolled them over their cell phones and tied them at the bottom, to keep them safe from the splashing water.

Finally, a use of condoms that does not provoke moral debate! 

We also covered our phones. As they say, any port in a storm.

We made it easily to Grand Boucan, but we could not make the second trip to Baraderes. The priest of Baraderes, Fr Jean Philippe, called and said he could not control the thieves at his wharf.

When I heard this I thought, if only he had grown up with one of the thieves. 

If only he had held one of their children in his arms when she was sick.

If only he would open a small bottle of rum to share.

The truth is, the world is as much saved by what we have done, as it is by what we do. The best way to go through life is building bridges, forging bonds, and cuddling children in our arms.

I am back to looking for a helicopter for Baraderes.

The best of times, the worst of times. A hurricane and a DaVinci original meet up in a tiny Haitian town.

The cycnics around us will scoff. The apathetics in our company will yawn. 

But those open to new life, like a baby born in a darkness and starkness of a  hurricane-ravaged country, will look eagerly forward to the work of building a future in hope.”

Some of you have asked where to send contributions you have collected for the Haiti Rebuilding Effort. Please mail all donations to the Passionist Development Office, 111 South Ridge St, Ste 300, Rye Brook, NY 10573.

Can Haiti Help Us?

I’m reading these first days of Lent a book by Fr. Rick Frechette: Haiti: The God of Tough Places, the Lord of Burnt Men. He’s a priest, a doctor, a member of my community, the Passionists, who has been serving the poor in Haiti for over 20 years.

When the recent catastrophic earthquake struck on January 12, 2010 he was the  director of a 150 bed pediatric hospital for poor children near Port-au-Prince and was responsible for setting up some street schools for poor kids in the slums of the city and a program for bringing clean water into the slums by truck.

All of those projects came to a halt or suffered severe damage in the earthquake that killed over 230,000 people. Fr. Rick is rebuilding now. Not only is he rebuilding, he hopes to do more.

His book,  a compilation of reflections about his work in Haiti over the years, is more than a picture of what he’s doing. It’s more a story of God’s grace shining through human misery. Haiti is a tough burnt land, but God wisdom and beauty are there in a place its people call “Calvary’s Hill.”  God’s grace is always there where a cross is set up.

Frechette’s book, instead of making you ask  “What can we do for Haiti?” makes you ask rather “What can Haiti do for us?”.

What can we learn from the place that most of us don’t want to look at?

When Fr. Rick built his pediatric hospital for the poor, he made it the best children’s hospital in Haiti, because he said the poor deserve the best. That’s not the way we think in our part of the world, is it? With us, the poor more likely get the worst.

We believe in success and think we have a right to it. We can be successful if we try hard.  We  can be winners and we like winners; we don’t like losers.  We like the stars, the celebrities, not the failed and the broken. We grow impatient with intractable problems. We turn away from them. “You’re fired,” we say to them.

The wisdom Jesus teaches is different, however. “Whatever you do to the least, you do to me.” And he told us to bear our cross and to share the cross that others bear.

Fr. Rick’s stories are about beauty and grace in the least and God who reveals himself in the mystery of the Cross.

The ultimate human failure, of course, is death.  And here again, Fr. Rick has  some of Haiti’s wisdom to pass on to us.  As a doctor,  he heals, but as a priest he buries dead as well. The grace of God pursues us even to death.

A few weeks after the earthquake, Fr. Rick’s mother died. He was able to get to her bedside and celebrate her funeral in Wethersfield, Ct and this is what he said.

“My mother was diagnosed with cancer about 8 months ago.  Over these months she had time to think about her life and death, about all those she loved, and about her God.  With the care of the best physicians and nurses, with the full devotion of her husband and children, she met the end of her life in a beautiful way. Slowly dying during mass at her bedside, dying shortly after my sermon on the merciful presence of the Blessed Mother who is with us “now and at the hour of our death”, she died during the consecration of the sacred bread and wine.  I later asked my father, since mom died so soon after my talk, if he thought my words were lethal, and did mom in!  He replied quickly, “your sermon darn near killed us all.”

Imagine, the earthquake caused the death of 100,000 to the present count.  The death of these people was so different from the death of my mother.  Instead of 8 months to prepare, they had 34 seconds.  Instead of constant attention and affection from loving families and skilled doctors, buildings fell on them, trapped them, crushed them and isolated them.  Instead of being honored with a beautiful coffin, the precious white pall, the wonderful incense, they bloat and rot and make you turn your head and vomit.  Instead of being laid tenderly in the grave as we will do to my mother today, they are lifted from the street by backhoes and front end loaders and dumped into huge trucks..  It is so different, so tragic, sad beyond words.  Life has to end for everyone. But the way that life ended for Gerri Frechette is a cause of thanksgiving and joy, and our gratitude should make our hearts burst with zeal, to want to right the wrong for those whose death is a humiliation and a disgrace.

On January 6th as I came home from Haiti to stay with mom to the end, the Archbishop of Port au Prince, Joseph Serge Miot, asked me to let him know when mom died.  He wanted to come and officiate at her funeral.  On January 12th ,  just 6 days later, he was dead.  Within 34 seconds the earthquake threw him from his 3rd floor balcony to the patio below, and the chancery fell on top of him, and the cathedral fell on top of the chancery.  I tell you this for two reasons. First, to remember and pray for this kind pastor and bishop during this mass. And second, as an example of a simple reality.  Did he ever expect to be dead before my dying mother?  What are your expectations of your death?  How secure are you sitting here at the funeral?  Will you still be here in 6 days?  Or maybe will you also be gone, with 34 seconds to prepare?

The point is a simple one.  We cannot escape death.  We should learn everything we can about it.  This mass, this earthquake, should be a profound school of learning for us.  To die the right way we have to know the right way to live.  Right living is the preparation for right dying – even a death  that comes in 34 seconds.”

For more on him, see www.thepassionists.org

A Funeral in Wethersfield

Just returned from the funeral of Gerri Frechette at Corpus Christi church, Wethersfield, CT. She was the mother of Fr. Rick Frechette, CP, the director of St. Damien children’s hospital in Haiti.

He was attending his dying mother when the earthquake struck Haiti last week and at her urging he returned to help in the disaster. He returned to her bedside a few days ago and as he and his family were celebrating Mass around her bed, she died.

In his homily, Fr. Rick said how grateful he was that as a priest he was able to offer his mother to the Lord as part of the great offering Jesus makes in the mystery of the Eucharist. A woman of great faith, she knew the significance of her death at this moment.

Fr. Rick commented on how different his mother’s death and burial were from what thousands experienced in the Haitian earthquake. Her death was expected; she prepared for it; all the funeral arrangements for her burial were carried out with great care and dignity. The Haitian dead died unexpectedly;  they had no warning; the bodies of many of them were dumped unceremoniously in mass graves, unaccompanied by loved ones and signs of respect and faith.

A number of Fr. Rick’s Haitian associates attended the funeral. He will return with them to Haiti and their relief efforts tomorrow.

Fr. Rick expressed the hope that the world will be a place where people could live their lives, like his mother, in dignity and respect and pass to the Lord in confidence and with a sense of fulfillment, as she had done.

May she rest in peace, and may all those who have fallen asleep, rest in the peace of Christ.

A Cross in Haiti

Like so many, I’m following developments in Haiti these last few days, especially the activities of Father Rick Frechette, CP, a member of my community, the Passionists. He’s a medical doctor in charge of a free pediatric hospital, St Damien’s, outside Port-au-Prince, which is still functioning in make-shift conditions after the horrendous earthquake. You can read about him, and donate to his mission, if you wish, here. Major networks, like NBC and ABC, have been covering his story and the hospital where he ministers.

The world is responding to this poorest of countries with sympathy and help. How could it not? An earthquake is such an unexpected tragedy, and this one struck a poverty-stricken land crowded with human beings living in brittle homes that crumbled and crushed thousands of men, women and children.

We ask “Why?” Is the natural world cruel as it is kind? Is its Creator uncaring or distant from all of this, or not there at all?

Faith doesn’t answer our questions, but instead invites us to look at the mystery of the Cross of Jesus as God’s wisdom for times like this. One picture from Haiti yesterday showed a crucifix in the midst of the destruction. A reminder to see Haiti’s  suffering and death with this mystery in mind.

The mystery of the Passion of Christ doesn’t give answers, but it gives comfort and hope. That’s what the great English mystic, Julian of Norwich, says it brings:

“The passion of Christ is a comfort for us. He comforts us readily and kindly and says:All will be well, and every kind of thing will be well.”

Teresa of Avila sees this mystery in the same way.  When Jesus says “Come to me all you who find life burdensome and I will refresh you” he is inviting us to find refreshment in his Passion, she says.

When faced with the mystery of suffering and death, go to the Cross of Jesus, she tells us, and look up into his face. “And he will  forget his own sorrow, turning his face to relieve yours.” He will be our comfort, our refreshment.

Certainly, this is a time to reach out and extend our help in material aid to the poor people of Haiti. But let’s not forget to pray for them, to stand before Cross of Jesus and look into his face, to ask him to see, not us, but them, to care for them, to comfort them, to give them hope.

In many ways Haiti has been a forgotten place in our world. Will this terrible event help us remember this land and its people? The Cross of Jesus is a mystery that brings humanity closer.

“The nearer we come to the cross, the nearer we come to one another.”