Haiti tremor moves them -- to prayer
I am writing Wednesday from a cruise ship in the Caribbean. The view outside my cabin window is of a picture-perfect day in a tropical port. A sign is visible welcoming the 2,100 aboard our ship — including nearly 100 in a group mostly from the Diocese of Peoria taking part in a Catholic Post-sponsored trip celebrating our newspaper’s 75th anniversary — to the hilly island of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
But my heart is several hundred miles to the west in another port city: Port-au-Prince, Haiti. It is a place dear to so many in our diocese who have supported efforts, either in person or through prayer and donations, to relieve the effects of poverty there.
The suffering in Haiti is now off any measurable scale after Tuesday’s earthquake.
Our ship was docked in Puerto Rico when news of the disaster came. While none in our group felt a tremor, many were moved — to prayer. We gathered in one of the ship’s theaters for a rosary. We asked Servant of God Archbishop Fulton Sheen, the “patron” of our trip who had such a love for the world missions, to intercede with Mary for those who are suffering and mourning. We will pray for Haiti again at our daily Mass within the hour.
But now, as I look out my cabin window, the memories of my own trip to Port-au-Prince in the mid-1980s seem fresh. I traveled with a group from the organization Food for the Poor. We stayed in a nice enough place called the Hotel Montana. I heard the name of the hotel on CNN last night as a site that was devastated.
I’m thinking of the hundreds of thousands of residents of a slum called Cite Soleil, where members of our group leaped over streams of human waste running through the streets. I’m thinking of the patients we met in a leprosarium. We also encountered dozens of heroes, and our diocese has had plenty of them there. I am wondering about the hospital that Dr. Paul Blough, a retired Peoria obstetrician, worked so hard to establish and staff. It had just gotten the luxury of running water when we toured. I wonder if any mission teams from our diocese were in Haiti this week. I wonder about Dr. John Carroll, or Deacon Richard Hammond, the Bartonville deacon who resides there many months of the year.
And I think about the smiles of the native Haitians I met, especially the children, who maintain such joy even in the absence of material possessions.
When I returned from my week in Haiti, I went through a kind of culture shock readjusting to the plenty we have in the United States. Now, as I watch the devastation wreaked by the earthquake, I am mindful of the overabundance on our cruise ship. How I wish we could share it with those in such desperate need.
Many reasons are cited why Haiti is a nation of such poverty in one of the most beautiful regions of the world. One reason we would do well to consider this week is that it affords those of us with material blessings the opportunity to see and serve Christ in their need. Please be generous with your prayers and support of efforts, whether local or through national groups such as Catholic Relief Services, when appeals reach your ears, eyes, and hearts. — Thomas J. Dermody