St Luke Novena
Last Wednesday, through the help of the Nunciature, Catholic Relief Services, USAID, and the US military force, we were able to carry out our first delivery of rice and water to the population of La Serengue by helicopter. It has been quite an adventure, and only after much persistence and meeting people of good will on each side was this made possible.
Arrangements were made that Nebez and I would go by military helicopter to help make the delivery to the people in the area where we are present with our St Luke school. Before we left, however, there was a security problem raised by the military who wanted a police force to be on the ground where the helicopter would land. This is an area where the police are usually not present, and with the mud slides and trees blocking the roads, it would have been nearly impossible for them to travel there. After a long dialogue we were able to convince the military team that we would land safely because of our way of working with the local people. In anything that the St Luke Foundation does we always involve the local community, including the mayors, church and community leaders. We were confident that the distribution could be accomplished with order and safety, even though an official police force was not available.
Finally after four hours, the military team told us that we were ready to take off by two Blackhawk helicopters with our 5.5 tons of rice, and many bags of water. I was amazed at how the military helped us load the helicopters, making a chain and throwing the bags from one hand to another, from the highest rank down. The helicopters looked overloaded, and in fact we were just skimming the water as we flew. For the pilots it was the first time for them to reach this area, and when we reached Abricot they turned two or three times around by air in order to really see and take in fully the scope of the devastation. Read more
Before we took off we had called one of the community leaders begging them to help organize the people prior to our arrival. When we reached our destination we found the soccer field completely cleared, and the people standing on the top of the hills around the field waiting for our arrival. As soon as we touched down and the people saw Nebez and myself, they began to wave and cheer and clap their hands.
The military allowed us to call ten people from the community down to help unload the helicopter, and again the military members helped in the chain of passing the bags of rice from hand to hand stocking them on the ground. From the soccer field to the school where most of the people in this area are currently taking shelter and sleeping during the night because they have nowhere else to go is an uphill walk of at least 15-20 minutes. It’s a rocky, steep climb, and the local guys put on their shoulders 2 bags of rice at a time, one on each shoulder, and made it up the hill. Once at the top we stored the rice in one of the school rooms, with plans to distribute daily portions at a time to the families in the community.
Nebez returned with the military to Port-au-Prince and I stayed in La Serengue that night. The next day I visited with the community, prayed together and planned the next steps for their recovery needs including hygiene rules, roofing, seeds, livestock, fishing boats and nets. Since the Hurricane we allowed the people to take shelter in the first floor of our St. Agustin school, but now it is very important to move quickly to the next steps of recovery because this living situation can quickly become a source of diseases. It is also important that the school reopens as soon as possible for the sake of the children’s education and to allow their parents to work in the fields.
It was amazing to see how the people all help to take care of one another in these conditions. While I was getting ready to find a boat to go to Dame Marie, some people introduced me to a man who had his foot crushed by a flying cement block during the hurricane. His name is Lucien, and several ladies were trying to take care of his badly wounded foot rubbing aloe leaves on the t-shirt that he had wrapped over his foot as a bandage. One of the ladies said, “Father, you should do something to heal it.” I said that I have nothing with me for wound care, but if I find a boat I could take him with me to Dame Marie where there is a hospital. The lady said that this was a great idea. Now came the problem of how to get the young man down the steep hill to the boat. As I was trying to figure this out, a young man came up with chains around his neck and a marijuana leaf hat and offered himself saying, “I will carry him on my shoulders down to where the boat is.” So I said, “Let’s try” having no idea if we would even find a boat once we got there, but the people insisted that we would find a boat, so we went. As we walked all the way down the steep and rocky hill, this young man (and good samaritan) carried Lucien on his shoulders all the way down the hill. When we got down to the sea, we found people carrying buckets on their heads and a few fish that they just pulled from the waters, but there was no sign of a boat.
While waiting I decided to walk around the small fisherman village to see the damages from the hurricane. The houses were destroyed not only by the winds, but also by the big waves described by the people as more than 10 feet high. I stopped in front of the church, St. Dominic’s, that now had only two walls standing and no sign of the benches. While I was looking at all of the nearby houses with roofs damaged a lady stopped to ask me, “Father, when are we going to rebuild the church?” I was so moved by how she was so concerned about rebuilding a dwelling place for the Lord.
I went back to Lucien, and there was still no sign of a boat. While the men started discussing how to find a boat, along came a man with a mule. After learning of the situation, the man with the mule offered to carry Lucien to the next bay. The decision was made that the rest of us would walk alongside, hoping that in the following bay we would find a boat. To cheer Lucien up I said, “Lucien, what an honour! You’re riding the same transportation that Jesus had when he entered Jerusalem” and the guys all laughed.
One of the community leaders had the brilliant idea to bring with him from the school a few gallons of gasoline just in case we would find a boat without gas, but when we reached the following bay there was no sign of any boat except for a few canoes made out of tree trunks. The decision was made to keep on going along the shore until we found a boat. It was a difficult walk as we couldn’t always walk on the shore because of cliffs that we had to climb up and over. And between the second and third bay there was a river to cross. The mule refused to cross the river and go any further, so Lucien went back onto the young man’s shoulders. At every bay where we had stopped, two or three people had added themselves to our group. After two hours of walking we decided to give a break to the young man who was exhausted, and as a group we began to take turns every 15 minutes carrying him by piggy back. Thank God Lucien is skinny! We walked at least four hours under the hot sun, with nothing to drink. Since the hurricane, people have been drinking water from coconuts, but at this point the coconuts that had fallen had already been eaten. No one had a thought to turn back.
Finally we arrived in a bay where we found a boat! But there was another river to cross that was quite deep and the sand on the banks was a like quicksand! How would we get Lucien across? And half of the people following did not know how to swim! At that time an old man with a canoe passed by, and after hearing our story took us one by one from one shore to the other. When we arrived to the boat and explained our journey the owner of the boat said, “I have the boat, I have the engine, but I don’t have gasoline.” Thank God for Jacob who had brought the gasoline!
From La Seringue to Dame Marie, it is usually an hour trip by boat. From the bay we left from, it took only 35 minutes, so you can imagine how much we had walked. Looking back, it is so interesting to think of the dialogue between us as we walked: politics; when is the best time to plant the seeds for the best harvest; how we can start fishing again; what would happen to the children if they can’t go to school. They were so eager to plan and to move forward. Going forward until we found the boat is an example of their insistence on how we never must give up, and must do so together as a community. My idea upon reaching the boat was that I was going to Dame Marie with Lucien, and that the others would go back to La Serengue. Nope! They all, at least twenty five, wanted to come all the way to Dame Marie. I asked the owner if it was too many and he said, “No worries, my boat can carry all of us. We won’t leave anyone behind.” And off we went with us taking turns in pulling the water out of the boat with a tiny bucket!
Once we arrived to Dame Marie it wasn’t easy to dock because of the very rough sea. My concern was how we were going to get Lucien off the boat and onto the dry land as the boat had to stay at least ten yards from the shore. All 25 of us got off the boat, again making a chain of people with our hands up in the air passing Lucien over our heads to the shore. As soon as we began doing so, people on the land jumped into the sea to help us. Here again, soaked and wet, Lucien was carried on our backs to reach the local hospital. When we got to the hospital the nurse immediately accepted him and when she unwrapped his foot, her first exclamation was, “He will probably lose his foot if we don’t take him somewhere else.” Somewhere else meant Port au Prince, where someone would know how to do the debridement required.
I told her the story of how the people had taken care of him and carried him all the way from La Seringue to Dame Marie, and that if it would be necessary to take him somewhere else that we would certainly do it. I assured the people who had helped that I would take care of him, and that if no doctor would show up by the following day I would take him with me to Port au Prince by helicopter, allowing them to go back to their homes by boat as the sea was rough and I was concerned that if they waited they wouldn’t make it.
I was able to have Lucien stay in the hospital for the night. I went to buy some rice and we ate together. He was scared of losing his foot and his biggest concern was how he could take care of his family if he wouldn’t be able to work. I told him, “No worries. No matter what will happen, I am sure that the way your people took care and carried you is certainly a sign of how God will do the same.” In the meantime I called Fr. Rick and Dr. Augustin to see if someone would come out to try to treat Lucien’s foot, and if needed to carry him to Port au Prince. Obviously the response was immediately positive.
During the night I kept on thinking about Simon of Cyrene, of how while he was on his own way going back home, he was called to help Jesus carry his cross. I also thought of the scene of The Lord of the Rings when Frodo is exhausted at the foot of the mountain and Sam tells him, “Come Mr. Frodo. I can’t carry it (the ring) for you, but I can carry you!” I already was imagining Lucien losing his foot, and how I could still care for and carry him in that circumstance.
In the morning I was surprised by a breakfast with spaghetti with tomato ketchup and cream cheese! At first sight, it would almost seemed an insult to the Italian cuisine. But, it made me smile and feel embarrassed because the family that hosted me (Nebez’s aunt) was taking care of me with so much tenderness and attentiveness. Even here the lesson was that no matter how poor you may be, you should always consider a guest as sacred and deserving of the best you have.
After breakfast my calculation was that the helicopter was supposed to land in a few hours. Walking to the hospital I passed in front of the church that was severely damaged, and here was a young man with a guitar singing in the square in front of the church with all of the metal sheets on the ground, as well as branches and tree trunks, singing, “When I find myself in times of trouble Mother Mary comes to me speaking words of wisdom, let it be…” It just blew my mind away!
I arrived at the hospital and told Lucien that the doctors were on their way. Dr. Augustin and Dr Brittany arrived and were able to advise the nurse on how to proceed. Lucien’s foot was saved, although through a lot of pain. I could now leave peacefully knowing that his foot was saved, but still my concern was how he would be cared for until he could get home. I gave money to Fridolin, one of the members of our St Luke school in Dame Marie, to host and take care of Lucien during the next few days until he was able to go back home. Yesterday I went back to La Seringue and while there I saw Lucien carrying his child in one arm and a machete in the other, going to the fields to work with his foot wrapped in a plastic bag! I said, “You have to be careful, you still can get infection in your foot.” His answer was, “The same way you took care and carried me I have to do for my family.”
On this feast of St. Luke, I ask you all to pray for us so that we may always be like the Good Samaritan caring and carrying others as the Lord asks us to.