Further Reflections on the Earthquake in Haiti

Haiti Quake

Editor’s Note: The following entry is from Fr. Mike McCue, OSFS, Director of De Sales Service Works in Camden, NJ. Fr. Mike visited Haiti in the summer of 2007 and has been following the situation in Haiti closely since the earthquake. His reflections on the response of people to this tragedy are thought provoking for Christians who try to make sense out of the seemingly meaningless suffering of so many people.
This week, the National Catholic Reporter ran a story from Fr. Tom Hagan, OSFS, that gives a first hand experience of the earthquake and its aftermath. Fr. Tom has lived and worked in Haiti for over a decade now. He also reflects on the faith of the people who lived through this tragedy. The story can be found here: http://ncronline.org/news/global/i-am-humbled-these-people
To help with the Oblate relief efforts in Haiti, please visit http://www.oblates.org/haiti_relief.php
Merci Jesus!
It has now been over two weeks since the earthquake hit Haiti, bringing unbelievable destruction and pain. Images are worth a thousand words; two carry the experience for me. So many people were trapped-for minutes, hours, days, a week or more within a collapsed building. It is painful to imagine the pain, the emotions, the hunger and thirst, the isolation and waiting. I hope I would emerge singing, as one Haitian woman was recorded doing.
Another image that has a hold of me is that of a thirteen year-old girl who after frantically searching, finally found her mother’s crushed body and then witnessed it being carted away with so many others. This young girl, like so many others, is left alone in the world.
Images and stories bring this experience to us who are not there and enable us to feel the anguish and, from our place, to do things we can to help. Communities, schools, parishes, congregations, universities, our government and NGOs are responding generously to assist efforts to help people, first of all, to survive and, secondly, to move into the future.
Responding from a Distance
This week I visited Bishop Ireton High School in Alexandria, VA, for Mass. In front of the school there is a “spirit rock” that serves as the place to represent in paint what is going on in the school. Usually the rock reflects the routine events of U.S. high school life: sports, music or drama, tests, congratulations for graduation and achievements. Since the earthquake, the colors of the Haitian flag are there with the words, “Help Haiti.” and “L.C.S.”, for Louverture-Cleary School. The school in Haiti is Ireton’s “sister school,” meaning the two have built up a connection over the past decade. At the Mass, a student who is part of Ireton’s Haitian Alliance spoke beautifully about her experience of visiting Haiti last fall and promoted the school’s response to the earthquake.
Along with reaching out to victims with compassion and with concrete aid, another type of response to Haiti’s earthquake is attempts to make sense of this senseless tragedy. Expressing one extreme answer to questions raised is TV host and past candidate for president, Rev. Pat Robertson. He made a big splash with his televised comments that offered his answer to these big questions. Haiti is cursed, he said, because of a vow they made to the devil. ( !!THE (DEVILS SHEPARD) ROBERTSON SAYS HAITIANS INVOKE EARTHQUAKE IN DEAL WITH …
01:07 – 18 days ago youtube.com ) He gives a small, tidy “answer” to a huge and un-tidy question. Nothing, absolutely nothing, about his assertion, makes any sense—as people from every direction quickly pointed out. (Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart’s observation is particularly effective Episode #15008 http://www.hulu.com/watch/120794/the-daily-show-with-jon-stewart-haiti-earthquake-reactions ) In fact every aspect of the assertion actively offends religion and logic. It portrays God as small in love and power, essentially blaming God, while ignoring the sins of injustice, greed and racial prejudice.
In fact God is endlessly loving and powerful, and he is always calling us and drawing us away from self-focus to other-centered focus, to big love that brings us to our truest self, made in the image and likeness of God. Squaring that love and power of God with the recent events in Haiti-or with any human suffering-requires people of faith to say we simply do not understand all things. But we do believe, as the first reading for the
Sunday after the earthquake put it (Isaiah 62:1-5), and as President Obama also put it—Haiti is not “forsaken.”
An article in the New York Times by James Wood, “Between God and a Hard Place” (Op-Ed, Jan. 24) answers the question by basically giving up on faith in a good God, as wishful thinking. This position seems to be opposite of Robertson’s, but both positions are built on a simplistic and anemic view of God. These extremes do not do justice to the big questions: there are many thoughtful efforts to address the big questions raised by this latest tragedy to come upon the people of Haiti. I can recommend the letters to the editor on Jan. 26 that dialog with the issues raised by Wood’s article.
The Kingdom of God
To their thoughts I want to add one more image from Haiti. I visited Fr. Tom Hagan (an Oblate whose organization, Hands Together, runs eight schools, a clinic and radio station in a Port-au-Prince slum neighborhood) two summers ago. We were on the move a lot during my four-day stay. I remember seeing the phrase merci Jesus, “thank you Jesus,” everywhere we went as we visited the various projects. The phrase struck me because I was observing the extreme poverty and hardship of life on this island nation. “What do Haitians have to be grateful for?” I asked myself. At the same time I was humbled by these expressions of gratitude when I, like many Americans, have so much more comfort and security. We can take for granted things that so many Haitians either don’t have, or have to spend enormous amounts of daily energy to get: clean water, sanitation, food, space, stable government, security, a roof over-head.
I wonder how people feel about that prayer now, living with the horror and pain brought by this earthquake. One way to be grateful comes from comparing your situation with others who are worse off than you are. It is possible to pray, “thank you, Jesus,” because I live in the US, or because I have all or most of my limbs, or am not suffering from infected wounds, because I am not trapped, or left without loved ones, because I am not dead: because I am less bad off than others. But the real test is whether someone, no matter how bad off, can make this her or his prayer? Can the person crushed, alone, in severe pain, or depressed-the person dead-find gratitude to give to God?
For Christians trust in God’s goodness and power connects directly to belief in eternal life where all is ordered according to God’s vision and goodness, so that all becomes fully just, loving and true. This heaven is not a members-only, gated community. It is not a “pie in the sky, by and by, when we die” designed to shape passive masses willing to put up with injustice and suffering in this world. It is the Kingdom of God that Jesus preached, and that Kingdom can be experienced in some fashion now when we participate in the love and forgiveness of God, whenever we respond to God at work in us, calling us beyond ourselves to love the other. I hope and pray that each person who is suffering-child, woman or man-can have some contact with the Kingdom through those working for justice, acting with compassion, serving out of faith, carrying on with some measure of trust in God, reaching out to neighbor.
Eventually, Haiti will pass the acute crisis stage, media attention will move on to other situations, and the time will come for Ireton students to repaint the rock in front of their school. But we can hope that awareness of the suffering of others will enlarge all hearts so that we all find ways to care for those in need-all our brothers and sisters as God see things-near or far.

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