Thursday, December 11, 2008

Reflections from Haiti – Fr. Tony Wroblewski Part 4

November 19, 2008 Evening

I’ve just finished praying after I got back from our final meal and evening here in Haiti. I was just thinking about a conversation a few nights ago, when Tom Johnson asked Brother Pete if he thought he was successful after 45 years of work here in Haiti. Br. Pete responded by saying, “No, I don’t think so.” I can understand why he would have said this. The needs here are great, the resources few. There is no doubt that at least in the Mission at Kobonal, a ray of hope certainly has been sparked, and there have been improvements in the lives of those that the mission touches. But at times, it may seem that what is done in this country may seem like a bucket full of water dropped into a vast ocean. It seems so overwhelming. I am overwhelmed. How to make sense of it all?

And then in prayer tonight I read from the Book of Revelation: “Worthy are you O Lord...with your Blood you purchased for God those of every tribe and tongue, people and nation. You made of them a kingdom of priests for God.”

In other words every human being has been purchased by Christ’s Blood. Everyone is loved and worthy of Redemption by Jesus Christ. And maybe that’s what this is all ultimately about: making sure that each person here knows their great worth and dignity. That despite outward appearances, each one here has innate human dignity and is precious in God’s eyes. Maybe that’s the success we must aspire to, the Missionary Sister of Charity, Bro. Peter, Fr. Glenn and his Mission, and yes even we who’ve been here a short while. And if one man, woman or child realizes that dignity or worth because of some act of kindness that one of us has done, then we’ve all been successful.

Reflections from Haiti – Fr. Tony Wroblewski Part 3

November 19, 2008

Last night, we had a joy-filled time, with the visit of Brother Pete, who is a Missionhurst brother who has been working here for 45 years – as long as I have been alive. He actually was a delightful man. He mainly has worked repairing all kinds of engines, and showing Haitians how to do so since his arrival. As a hobby, he does wood-working. I don’t think I could call him an optimist. He certainly wouldn’t be considered a conservative by any standards, politically or theologically. He doesn’t feel much has improved here – and after 45 years has no clue how things can turn around here.

This country, where Columbus first came so many years ago, was a tropical paradise, filled with exotic hardwood trees and fruit trees. But in a short time, the land was cleared of almost all natural resources. Its people are actually descendants of African slaves brought here by the French. Haiti remains the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with 80% of the population in poverty, and over 50% in abject poverty. And due to its almost total deforestation, is terribly prone to natural disasters and erosion. Farming it is difficult. And there is no industry to speak of.

Today, we visited Br. Pete at his shop. What a kind, interesting man. His place is near the airstrip. UN troops were guarding the strip today. Apparently they were expecting some arrival that needed extra security.

So tomorrow we return back home. The mix of emotions I have experienced is still churning inside me. I imagine that it will be that way for some time. Those who work here are so very dedicated to being the hands and feet and voices of Christ. I am so very edified by Fr. Glenn. I can’t imagine being able to do what he does. And yet I am somehow drawn to this place. I certainly felt before coming here that once would be enough! Now I am not so sure. Despite what I would see as overwhelming challenges here, there is joy to be found. Somehow, many here live with hope. They carry on – they accept the inherent difficulties of life here. I am left to believe that it is because somehow they sense the presence of Christ close to them. I wonder if, left with few possessions and little else to give them security, they know that the only hope we all really have is in God.

When we were at the Missionaries of Charity, Sister Theola, the superior there, said that Mother Teresa always told them that no matter what they did, they did with joy, because the people they would encounter every day would have little joy in their lives. Brother Pete said of them that “they have chosen a very difficult path to heaven.” I’m not sure about that. Certainly anyone here, whether native to this land or not, has a difficult life. It is hard work to make your way even a little bit. Yet it seems that if it’s done with love, and in joy, then it’s all worth the effort. Tonight we have our final meal together here for this mission trip.

Reflections from Haiti – Fr. Tony Wroblewski Part 2

November 18, 2008

Today we distributed food to those who are the poorest in the area (near the village of Kobonal where the mission is located. Of course, when you say “poverty” here it is a relative term. We simply don’t know this level of poverty in the US. Today the people who came here received enough food to feed their families for a month. Corn, beans, oil, a small package of bouillon cubes and some lye soap. Those without any adequate shoes received simple sandals. We distributed to about 400 families. That represented about 2000 people. Some came with donkeys to help carry the load. Many were elderly, who have no means of support.

It was interesting to see many carry sticks, wood, for fires which the mission will use to cook food for the children. Even in their poverty they want to help. Leaving, those without any “transportation,” which is most, carried the loads balanced on their heads. They were so very grateful – and so very gentle. One of our group mentioned the fact that it seemed that what the 10 of us ate last night at supper, in one meal, would last a whole family a week, or perhaps a month. And then I thought of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday – how much food we’ll eat in one day – the sheer amount of food readily available to us. And then there are many people who don’t have any access to a place like this mission, so they resort to eating cakes literally made out of mud. They simply want to fill their bellies. Of course for them, malnutrition will come quickly. Again today, when I thought I had seen it all, I realize I hadn’t.

Reflections from Haiti – Fr. Tony Wroblewski Part 1

I’ve just returned from the house of the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa’s sisters) in the city of Hinche. I am now realizing the great gamut of emotions I’ve been feeling the past few days. Though today was the first time since I arrived in Haiti a few days ago that I felt an overwhelming sadness – my heart broken over seeing so, so many sick people in the sisters’ home – especially the children. The sisters were wonderful. But the plight of the children broke my heart. The sisters take them in – they have no place to go. Their legs and arms are thin to the bone, and their stomachs distended like balloons from malnutrition. More and more have HIV and other illnesses, but they can get no medicine that could help them. (I am made aware of the immense amount of samples that are given freely to clinics in the US.) And yet, these children hold out their arms – only wanting a loving embrace – the smallest human touch which would validate their humanity – their dignity. And there are so many.

As I said, the range of emotions I have felt is wide. Landing in Port Au Prince I was guarded. Flying to Hinche, and then landing in that tiny dirt path they called a runway, I must admit was frightening. The next few days, I felt a building sense of joy. The people here are so warm and inviting, despite their utter poverty, what most of us in the US would describe as destitution. But they carry on. They muddle through.

But today I am overwhelmed. I wonder – where is the light at the end of the tunnel? How do they find hope in the midst of all this? And why was I, and not them, so blessed? These questions gnaw at my soul. I have no answers.

Time to pray…

I’ve just opened my prayer book. The first line read: “…the Lord looks tenderly on those who are poor.” I sure hope so. And later on: “…endure joyfully whatever may come.”

We ate supper tonight, and then enjoyed each other’s company with a game of cards. In speaking with Lyle, a doctor with us, he indicated that most of those people we saw today, especially the children, wouldn’t be in such dire circumstances in the US. In fact, they probably wouldn’t be ill at all. In his own words, he said in the US these diseases no longer even exist. There was a little boy – his name was Jean (John) – who was going to die very soon. He couldn’t be more than a year old, though with the malnutrition it is so very hard to tell the children’s ages. He suffered from anemia and malnutrition, which in turn brought about heart failure. His parents brought him to the sisters too late. There is nothing that can be done. So the sisters are helping him, and of course his family, to die with some dignity. I’ve seen so much poverty, and yet tomorrow I am told we will be seeing the very poor! The mission will be giving them, their families, enough food to live for a month. If the mission wasn’t here, they would most likely die. I am told that there will be hundreds here, those who have no other recourse. Words seem inadequate to express what I now feel in my heart and soul.