The Godsong: Finding Hope in the Aftermath of Haiti’s Earthquake.
A reflection by Fr. Rick Frechette, two weeks after the devastating earthquake in Haiti on 14 August 2021.
Port au Prince, Haiti
August 28, 2021
1 God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.[c (Psalm 46:1-3)
As we slept under stars in Les Cayes two nights ago, having led another caravan of medicines, supplies and building materials to the South,
and while mosquitos ate us alive, the heavens were spectacular and the earth was all music.
God songs, sung with full vigor, were coming over the walls from the people sleeping on the streets and from the nearby Churches.
You can forget about mosquitos when you are looking at heaven and hearing its hymns.
We have started putting roofs over people’s heads, wooden or iron frames with aluminum roofing.
Two of them were for some nuns in Aquin. One for a “convent” and one for a “clinic.”
This community of Sisters knows psalm 46 real well. Their mother house and school in Riviere Froide collapsed in the quake of 2010 (that’s how I met them),
Two of them have been victims of kidnappers. Five of them were in our St Luke COVID unit a few months ago, and two died there.
Now their convent and school, clinic and Church are heavily damaged.
They are women of strong faith. They are joyous. They danced when Domo and Cesar gave them tin roofs, in less than a day of welding.
Do you have doubt about their joy? Come and hop on my truck!
We stopped at Camp Perrins to resupply our medical teams in the area, and at the request of a friend who went to school there many years ago, to report on the damage to the Catholic Seminary called Mazenod.
My friend was very worried about how many fatalities there were, especially among the priests.
The place is totally destroyed, and I spoke with the priests there and discovered thankfully that only two people died in such destruction.
God rest their souls and console their families.
While talking to the priests, a very young man came out of nowhere and said to me “I go to your school.”
By the way he said it, it was if he saw me as family, as an anchor. He somehow felt solid to see me.
I thought, if our schools can engender this kind of trust, we must be doing something right.
I said, “Which school?”
He said, “In Tabarre, the Academy for Peace and Justice.”
Pierre Louis then told me how he hurried back home from Port au Prince as soon as the ground stopped shaking.
He lives with his grandmother, the house is destroyed.
His whole small town (bouk) is destroyed.
I asked where he lived, and he said Picot. I asked if it was far, he said bout 15 minutes into the mountain. So off we went.
We bandaged some wounded, visited the destroyed homes, and he seemed proud before his neighbors that were were there.
A mom showed us her 5 year old daughter that had been under rubble up to her neck- gentle and careful hands dug her out. When I asked Pierre Louis about fatalities, he told me the Mambo (female voudoo practitioner) was having a ceremony in the peristil (temple) and the roof fell on them and killed the 39 people present.
I was thinking, how would I have handled all of this if i were a junior in high school. With all the tragedies in Port au Prince, and the failures of the county, how would I be motivated to study when in this country it seems like there is no tomorrow.
But whatever my questions were, they weren’t his questions.
Pierre Louis thanked us for coming.
He asked for a prayer. He asked for help for his village.
He is ready for tomorrow, and he is full of the dreams he needs to get him there.
We have already started distributing construction materials broadly. His village in Picot is on the list for late this week.
God is also the refuge and strength of the “combit,” the human armies that come together in Haiti for any momentous task.
The combits were so evidently busy since our last caravan to the south just days ago. They are breaking up the rubble in Las Cayes and Maniche by hand, hauling it away, piling up the twisted rebar to sell to the iron recyclers and exporters.
The Haitian people are not sitting around waiting for Godot.
So very creative and industrious, shelters are appearing and gardens being replanted. The God of life smiles.
Way up by the mountains near the peak called Makaya, in a village called La Pourcine, a call for help through friends of friends led us to find some helicopters to retrieve 11 wounded, and 11 family members to stay with them in Port au Prince.
Messages continued to come, looking for help to help get them out from under the cold rain.
They needed roofing materials. They are nearly unreachable even in ordinary circumstances.
We planned all kinds of ways to pull this off.
There is a mountain path from Beaumont, which is reachable by road, and then requiring eight hours on foot.
Only people can manage it, and not even mules because of the paths that wind through treacherous cliffs.
I tried to picture myself and the team trying to walk all those hours carrying 12 foot aluminum sheets.
We offered to try, but the mountain people sent back a message, it is treacherous for people not used to it.
That is definitely us.
Because contents of caravans are getting stolen all along the roads from Port au Prince to the south, we decided to buy the building materials for La Pourcine in Jeremy.
We would manage the broken bridge like we did last time: trucks on both sides of the bridge and crossing with the materials by hand.
The we would go up the mountain from Roseau with four wheel drive the trucks, through Voldrougues, up the muddy mountain road to Lion’s market, and then park at Bois Sec (dry wood), which is the end of the road. Then we would haul the materials the rest of the three hours on foot and mule.
The trouble is the Bois Sec is full of bandits, so our last thing to plan was some kind of police escort from Jeremie.
Then the mountain people sent a message, on the day we were leaving.
Hold off! Heavy rains softened the mountain, and a mudslide between Bois Sec and La Pourcine had blocked passage.
We would have to wait until they had at least three days of sun, to dig open that pass.
So were were on hold again – until today. Seems very likely now that a US helicopter will get the 500 sheets of roofing to the village within days.
The struggles to advance are blessed. We are hoping for good news.
The whole week’s efforts were dampened Wednesday, when for a third time we had another kidnapped staff. The pit in our communal stomach, the extra worries for the victim being female, trying with big thumbs on a small phone to mobilize many levels of pressure on the kidnappers while in the south, even trying to get to their king (lamor sans jour- “death with no date”).
It is not only about the kidnapping of Marie. It is about the kidnapping of the dreams of all the Marie’s in Haiti ,and turning their dreams to fear.
It’s about leaving no choice to capable people except to flee the Haiti for shores that are better and safer for them and for their children.
The flight of the competent, the lucky, the traumatized.
A tightrope walk for three days, but thankfully Marie was released this morning unharmed.
Last night “Stainless”, one of our construction workers, was less lucky. The gang where lives on Delmas is called Cache Dife (hidden fire). It was the gang leader’s girlfriend’s birthday yesterday, and the police decided to add their own fireworks to the party. In the shootout to capture the gang, people living in the area were not left unscathed. Stainless has 7 bullets in his extremities. He said he owes his life to a policeman who recognized him and called off the assault on him. He was presumed to be part of the gang, probably because he does not exactly look like a boyscout.
The death rattle is not just the sound a dying person makes with their throat as they fade away, or the grinding sound of an earthquake (in Creole they call that sound “godoogodoo”).
The death rattle is also the macabre voice of Satan, vibrantly resonating out of the vocal cords of the fault line caused by the deadly sins. A convulsing earth is not the only way to violently shake the human family.
It’s the best song Satan can come up with, a disgusting death rattle.
Believers have a better song by far. The Godsong.
This is the song that we must strive to keep alive at all costs, by adding our own voices to it.
Fr Rick Frechette CP,DO
Port au Prince
August 28, 2021
*More about Fr. Rick
Fr. Rick has lived and worked in Haiti for nearly 30 years during which time he led the building of the only WHO approved paediatric hospital in Haiti, which withstood the earthquake of 2010. He is a human and civil rights campaigner and delivers humanitarian aid whenever and where ever it is needed. His work also includes holding clinics in one of the most deprived and violent areas of Cite Soleil. Fr. Rick was ordained as a Passionist Priest in 1979 and is originally from the United States.
Fr. Rick has also overseen the development of NPH Haiti’s St. Damien 120-bed pediatric hospital, which provides long-term care to critically ill children and outpatient services to over 90,000 children and adults each year. He also oversees the management and operations of the NPH orphanages, St. Hélène and Father Wasson Angels of Light, which serve over 2,000 children. He also founded the St. Luke Foundation which creates dignified jobs in social service fields including 29 street schools, water delivery to the slums, hospitals and clinics and burying the unclaimed dead from the city morgue.
In 2012, Father Rick won the Opus Prize, a faith based humanitarian award that recognizes unsung heroes solving today’s most persistent social problems. He was also the subject of a 2008 RTÉ programme entitled ‘A Hundred Dead People in My Truck’ about his commitment to providing proper burial for the unnamed dead of Port au Prince’s destitute areas.