Arriving in the country felt like entering a different world. Initially, I was struck by an apparent contradiction: the extreme material poverty of the place, and the beauty and joy of the people. They have nothing, and yet these people are so alive and happy. The constant smiles of the children and the cultural affection and warmth of the Haitians immediately won my heart. It was easy to recognize Jesus in these people.
I certainly also encountered the harsh realities of destitution and suffering, however. The need is overwhelming. Even as simple a thing as taking a sip from a water bottle would draw the attention of a throng of children, running up and gesturing to their lips, begging for a drink. Begging for a drink of water? This, more than any other material poverty I’ve ever seen, cut me to the heart. How can something as basic and necessary as a clean drink of water be a luxury?
With nothing left to give, I often found myself before a little crowd of people repeating the phrase, “I have nothing; only Jesus!” Even if I could give them nothing else, the children were always happy to see the crucifix I carried with me and receive a quick prayer. I have nothing; only Jesus. I hope this will become more and more the reality of my life.
One other example of suffering still vivid in my memory is the grotesquely swollen and wounded ankle of an eight-year-old boy. I learned from his desperate mother who had come to us for help that he was suffering from an untreated infection that would likely result in his whole foot being amputated. By a miracle of God’s grace, we were able to bring the boy to the mission’s children’s clinic and set him on a path of recovery.
In accompanying this boy and his mother through their difficult situation, I was faced with the hard reality of my own selfishness and lack of faith. Several times I experienced the desire to just run away from all this—this suffering; this fear of being unable to do anything and having to send them away empty; this guilt for helping one and leaving so many others behind. I want to go back to my safe, clean little life… but…then again, no! I am here. I want to be here and serve God’s people—but I am totally crushed by the weight of so much need and suffering. And then I see the redemption God works despite my weakness. I see Him answer my prayers. I see a miracle happen. This boy will be healed. This one. God is so present—even amidst this overwhelming mystery of suffering.
One last experience I’ll share for this reflection involved some serious spiritual warfare. During one of the youth retreats held during the mission, while one of our priests processed through the church with the Blessed Sacrament, a young boy began to manifest signs of demonic oppression. Several missionaries calmly carried him out of the church. After finishing the procession, the priest led the boy in prayers of deliverance and exorcism. It was only after invoking the intercession of the patroness of the mission church, St. Therese of the Child Jesus, however, that the demon was forced to leave. The little boy, on being asked what he had seen, replied, “I saw St. Therese!” Days afterward, the word still circulating enthusiastically among the brothers was “St. Therese kicked the demon in the face!”