Priest leaves dying mother, Jesuits venture into neighborhood to help

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By Catholic News Service
Friday, 15 January 2010

Source: The Catholic, Official Newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

A collection of vignettes from Haiti

Priest-doctor travels from bedside of dying mother to 18 funerals

Passionist Father Rick Frechette, the Haiti-based director of medical services for Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos International, was at home in New Jersey with his dying mother when the magnitude 7 earthquake hit Port-au-Prince Jan. 12.

“I was determined to stay with her to the end, especially since my whole adult life I have been far from home in the foreign missions,” he wrote in a letter posted on the Web site of the Passionists’ St. Paul of the Cross province.

But when news of the devastating quake arrived, Gerri Frechette told her son: “You have to go. The problems there are worse than mine.”

After a plane ride from New York to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and a lift in a helicopter belonging to the president of the Dominican Republic, Father Frechette arrived in Port-au-Prince Jan. 14 to a series of what he called “sadnesses” — including 18 funerals that first day.

“One for John who works at our St. Luke program,” he wrote in a Jan. 15 e-mail. “We miss John very much. He often stopped at my door to tell me the milestone of his developing baby, which delighted him no end. … Another was for Johanne’s mother. Johanne is one of the directors of the St. Luke program. All the others were of unknown people who were sadly rotting by the wayside.…

“Other stories of deaths of people who are dear to us keep coming in,” he said.

The St. Luke program operates street schools in the poorest slums of Port-au-Prince.

In an interview with NBC News late Jan. 14, Father Frechette said one of the worst things about celebrating funerals after the earthquake is knowing that the survivors “have to go to the cemetery with their picks and shovels to bury their own dead.”
Father Frechette, a doctor of osteopathic medicine, oversees St. Damien Chateaublond pediatric hospital; the Father Wasson Center, where educational and rehabilitative services are provided at the site of the former pediatric hospital; and St. Helene orphanage, which housed more than 350 children.

Although the orphanage was not significantly damaged, the seven-story Father Wasson Center collapsed and “about half the outer perimeter walls (of St. Damien’s) have fallen,” the priest said. (NOB)

Jesuits, in shock but OK, head into neighborhood to help

“The tremor caught me by surprise in front of our residence in the Canape-Vert neighborhood. We are in shock but otherwise OK,” said Jesuit Father Kawa Francois in an e-mail to Canadian Jesuits.

Father Francois, the order’s novice master in Haiti, said the Jesuits from Port-au-Prince’s Canape-Vert neighborhood spent the night after the Jan. 12 earthquake in their residence’s courtyard, where a strong aftershock woke them around midnight. The residence itself was only slightly damaged, but neighboring homes were completely destroyed.

“We went out to help our neighbors who are in distress. They stayed with us overnight in our garden,” he continued. “What we have seen is indescribable; there are dead people everywhere and in every neighborhood of the city houses have been destroyed. I saw houses and walls fall in front of me.”

Father Francois said he received word from a group of novices who were on a 30-day retreat at a different residence that they were all alive and well, but understandably in shock.
In another e-mail update Jan. 14 Father Francois’ tone became more urgent.

“The situation is becoming increasingly critical in Port-au-Prince,” he wrote. “The people have nothing; water, food, covers, tents. They are sleeping in the streets. They are in shock and are afraid to go into their homes. The hygiene situation is deteriorating and rapid intervention is needed to avoid a humanitarian disaster.”

Father Francois said he ventured out into the neighborhood to view the damage and met Archbishop Bernadito Auza, the apostolic nuncio to Haiti. That was how he was informed that Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot of Port-au-Prince had been killed in the quake and Msgr. Charles Benoit, vicar general, was believed dead as well.

Father Francois ended his latest letter with relatively good news, saying he had been able to locate a priest, Father Derino Sanfairiste, who had been missing.

“The debris of a large building fell on the car he was in,” he wrote, adding that the community was thinking of sending the injured man to the Dominican Republic for treatment. (AA)

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