Thursday, June 17, 2010

Haiti May 2010 - Seton Hall

In May 2010, I traveled with a Seton Hall University (South Orange, NJ) group to Hinche in the central plateau of Haiti, about 60 miles northeast of Port au Prince. We stayed 19-24 May at Maison Fortune Orphanage in Hinche. Then we stayed one night (May 25) in Port au Prince.

Our 2010 party of five from Seton Hall was Dave Peterson, Tom Russomanno, Cynthia Manns, Tom Capretta, me. In our June 2009 trip (before the earthquake) we were fourteen. Nearly all of those signed up for the 2010 trip dropped out after the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake in the Port au Prince city and region.

( _01 ) 19 May, JFK Kennedy Airport, New York - After meeting 5:00 a.m. at Seton Hall, François, a Haitian immigrant and campus ministry staff member, drove us to JFK.

Eager to be on time, Dave suggested a route to François, involving the Goethals Bridge or something. Dave was ignored; François went for the George Washington Bridge and Cross Bronx Expressway which was direct but also potentially crowded.

This was our first lesson of trust in Haitian drivers. We made it to JFK within 45 minutes, I woke up somewhere in Long Island having slept through the Cross Bronx. Merci, François

Heavy and numerous were our bags (with donations) which we re-engineered before going to the ticket counter. We thought AA American Airlines would not permit is to check a third bag, even while paying. Actually, we could have checked the third bag. AA unknowingly contributed to our cause, not charging us for one bag that was twenty pounds overweight.

( _02 ) 19 May, (Toussaint Louverture Intl Airport, Port-au-Prince) You hit the tarmac at PAP not only with the aircraft but also your feet. Jetways connect outbound passengers from the terminal to the cabin. Not so for the inbound who descend the staircase and go directly to the airport asphalt and summer heat.

Customs and baggage claim are now in a storage facility or hangar. Port au Prince baggage claim is good training for the NFL draft combine and/or Christmas bargain-shopping should any of us desire a linebacker position or an iPad.

The overland trip to Hinche is now smoother and vastly improved at two and half hours’ driving. Five years ago, the road was not paved and the journey took eight hours. Last year, 2009, the trip took four hours.

New on the road this year were freshly painted guardrails and a few roundabouts. No actual signs or traffic lights.

While asphalt covers most of Route National 3 to Hinche for vehicles, none of it is has been poured for the aircraft at Hinche airport. There, takeoff/landing is on a dusty and rocky airstrip softened in appearance only by the adjacent grass being eaten by goats. Needless to say there are no moving sidewalks either.

We did not actually use Hinche airport for any of our travels.

( _03 ) 20 May, (Maison Fortune Orphanage, Hinche) The orphanage is a gated (steel, locked) and walled (10 foot high cinderblock) community of education, food, shelter, recreation with modern concrete buildings and running water and food. Much (all?) of the food is served as MRE (Meals ready to eat rations) which are military rations which would help you survive a Kuwait sandstorm … or Haiti. (

Our food was relatively upscale with rice and beans, and oatmeal for breakfast with toast if we wanted.

All children go to school and wear clothes/uniforms donated including about thirty girls in uniforms of Lacordaire Academy in Upper Montclair, NJ. There also a boy wearing a Bergen's Best Soccer Camp t-shirt on the street one day. (Bergen County, NJ)

Maison Fortune has grown from about 120 to 170 children (age 4 to 20) since the January quake. Port au Prince children have entered the fold, initially presenting themselves as the streetwise boyz n the tropical hood. Dave Peterson observed some friction during his March visit but noted that the adaptation of the new boys appears complete now.

Meals are regular as is soccer and basketball and games for the boys and girls. Sometimes these are all at the same time as the four-gallon pot of rice and beans is carried across the five-acre compound through the soccer goal and over to the other section for meal time.

( _04 ) Meals Breakfast - some of the best pot-cooked oatmeal with almonds, bananas, dried fruit. Best meal of the day. I usually had two or three bowls, wanting the carbs for afternoon hoops.

Dinner (Noon meal) - salad, beets, lettuce, tomato, rice and beans ... rice and beans with ketchup were a particular favorite. Rice and fish was not as good.
Also, goat was a frequent entrée. One day, three goats were courtside at basketball.

I figured some of the local point guards had brought their livestock, tied them up and entered the game. Brother Michael gave me the real story, "you will not be seeing those goats again." Actually, they had been purchased for dinner the next day.

Corn meal, polenta, very good.
Supper (Evening meal) - whatever was leftover from Dinner.

( _05 ) 21, 22, 24 May, (The Azeal, Missionaries of Charity of Hinche)
When Mother Teresa’s sisters do not have the pedal to the metal on Route National 3 from Port au Prince to Hinche (we could not catch them in our Toyota van), they are running the Azeal, an orphanage/clinic (both children and adults) run by the Missionaries of Charity

The Azeal serves adults and children without access to medical care and provides food, in particular, to women to feed their families. Sometimes, men who could be working show up seeking food as well. The sisters tell us they will turn away men whom they deem could and should be working for their food.

Approximately 100 children age newborn to five years old are at the Azeal. Some are terminally ill; some will go home. They crave human attention/touch. We went there to hold them and/or be gang-tackled by them, as happened on our first of several visits.

( _06 ) 20 – 25 May, (Maison Fortune Orphanage, Hinche) Midwives for Haiti
The orphanage had a second U.S.-based group in residence during our week: Midwives for Haiti. They even have their own tap-tap, a red pick-up truck to get them and their equipment back and forth from the hospital, from home visits and from mobile clinics around Hinche.


Since the earthquake in January 2010, Midwives for Haiti is cooperating with other non-governmental organizations to provide post-earthquake relief in Haiti. In Haiti, 76% of all deliveries are done by non-qualified persons, contributing to the highest infant and maternal mortality in the western hemisphere. 15% of newborns have low birth weight and 25% of the children suffer from chronic malnutrition. The World Health Organization has estimated that the things professional midwives know how to do - preventative prenatal care, handling complications of pregnancy and birth, and teaching nutrition –could totally change these statistics.

Many of the midwives, in their rare spare time also visited the Azeal to be with the children and also spent hours with the children at Maison Fortune.
The working mission of MFH was, however, to the wider community of Hinche rather than to any orphanage. However, MFH lived at Maison Fortune because space was available and Prestige was cold. Who could pass that up?

For the record, MFH did not actually drink all the beer in the fridge. But, who could deny these professionals a cold Prestige after a long night of labor and delivery?

These nurse-midwives made great sacrifices with limited resources and no running water. For example, each section of the hospital gets its own quantity of 20-30 gallons for a particular time frame. They make it last and/or compensate with Purell. Their only discernible fear was the tarantulas at the orphanage. Go figure.

We were also visited in our rooms by a velociraptor-sized moth which was able to survive several blows with a New Balance 926. Tom Russomanno eventually wrestled him to the ground. You just can’t kill the beast.

( _07 ) 20 May to 25 May, Maison Fortune Football/Footwear While Midwives for Haiti improvises with the scarce resources on their medical hands, the boys do so on their feet. In one full court hoops game, we were beaten by a team of five players decked out, respectively: one barefoot, one in flip-flops, three in pink crocs.

On the soccer field, a soccer player would dribble with both crocs, then drop one right before passing or shooting. In another soccer game, a ten-year-old boy goalkeeper was polished and pretty in formal-wear women's dress flats which enabled him to make kick saves effectively.

( _08 ) 23 May, Pentecost, Pandiassou and the Peasant We visited the Little Brothers and Little Sisters of the Incarnation

( who work in Pandiassou in the central plateau. Pandiassou is about 10 miles from Hinche. The Little Brothers/Sisters aid the local economy with projects such as the building of artificial lakes for irrigation.

These are the sort of small-scale agricultural projects which Haiti desperately needs.

The Little Brothers/Sisters were founded by Charles de Foucald born in 1858 in France. Brother Charles did his work in the Sahara; his successors brought the mission to Haiti.

From their website:

The Little Brothers and Little Sisters of the Incarnation were founded in the Central Plateau area of Haiti in the Catholic Diocese of Hinche in 1976 and 1985 respectively. Today they number almost 100 Haitian religious divided into 16 fraternities. Their mission is "to become one with the peasants" as they follow Jesus. The fraternities are currently located in 6 dioceses throughout Haiti: Hinche, Port-au-Prince, Les Cayes, Jeremie, Jacmel, Fort-Liberte, as well as one in Santo Domingo of the Dominican Republic.

Haiti, is like the reed which bends in the wind but does not break, it shows to the world once again the historic strength of the poor. The poor, the blessed of God, are a sacrament of the weakness as well as of the saving and liberating power of God, a sacrament of God's justice, which is to say God's mercy for all people and a sign of God's forgiveness and non-violence.

( _09 ) 25 May, (Maison Fortune Orphanage, Hinche / Departure) The land – as airstrip, road, farm, or street – tells a story in Haiti, the former colony of French Saint-Domingue on the western one-third of what Columbus named Hispaniola. The eastern side of the island is the Dominican Republic.

Haiti has been viewed – and could one day be - a land of promise. Today it is a place of broken promises. And, the danger is that the exodus will be strictly outward.

One anecdote of migration was shared with me by Father Tom Streit, C.S.C., Ph.D. a scholar at Notre Dame (Indiana) who also uses his biology/immunology background to find solutions for Haiti. Streit (rhymes with “light”) shared his current objective which is salt-iodization to prevent illnesses (e.g., elephantitis) and to promote neurological development. Young brains and nervous systems rely on iodine for full development.

Streit also conveyed the frustration of many Catholic religious communities and clergy in Port au Prince. Their churches, residences, convents, rectories, schools are destroyed. They need money and the collection of funds, so far, for this purpose has been low.

And, Streit fears that this will lead to the departure of Haitian Catholic religious landing elsewhere – probably in Florida where Creole-speaking ministry is commonplace.

( _10 ) 25 May, Port au Prince, Yele Hait, Matthew 25 We toured the capital and observed damage of the 12 January 2010 earthquake (7.0 Richter + 16 aftershocks exceeding 5.0). The actual epicenter is Lèogâne about 20 miles west of Port au Prince.

The percentage of dead/missing in Lèogâne exceeds Port au Prince where 225,000 died in a 1,700,000 population. In Lèogâne, about 25% are dead/missing; deaths of 25,000 in a population of 100,000. Also 90% of Lèogâne buildings are destroyed. In Port au Prince, many buildings are affected but the proportion is much lower.

Unfortunately, aid has been much slower to reach Lèogâne than Port au Prince.
Our first of two stops at post-earthquake tent cities was at Yele Haiti which is run by Haitian musician/star Wyclef Jean who is based in South Orange, NJ. (Yele Haiti is his foundation). This is a multi-million dollar project with a relatively small team. His camp includes about 500 tents all of which were relatively high-tech Shelter Box units, ShelterBox is an international disaster relief charity that delivers emergency shelter to people affected by disaster worldwide (

The community within Yele Haiti was as peaceful and dignified as any neighborhood. I was invited by one woman to photograph her in front of her temporary home. Many of the families had painted the rocks around their tent as decorations. We did, however, set off a small flurry of agression when we gave away the high-bouncing rubber balls. We only had about 12 for a crowd of over 30 children... our mistake.

When one of the children did not express undying gratitude for our meager gift, he was corrected (gently) by a grown up. Apparently, losing your home to 7.0 seismic activity is no release from please and thank you.
Yele Haiti is also at work on:

• Houses - small wooden houses which could replace the tents. It is not clear whether these houses would be built only within the camp or elsewhere too.

• Public spaces - canvas-domed pyramid structures (about 30 feet in diameter and 60 feet high) to be used as public spaces in the camp: e.g., shopping, medical treatment. We met a Haitian-American from Atlanta who is in the construction business and dedicated to this task as a volunteer.

The second of our tent city stops was at Matthew 25. This Guest House is named for the Gospel chapter: “a stranger and you welcomed me; hungry and you fed me…” Matthew 25 is adjacent to a soccer field covered with about one hundred tents including the stranger, the hungry, the thirsty. In June 2009, our Seton Hall Univ. group stayed at Matthew 25 guest house and played ultimate Frisbee on this same soccer field.

The guest house has resumed nearly normal operation for foreign guests in Haiti. Their wireless internet seemed to work. And, Matthew 25 is no longer an emergency shelter and its kitchen no longer an operating room. Their soccer field is, however, a distant memory.

( _11 ) 26 May – 27 May, PAP to USA For our outbound flight PAP-JFK, the aircraft expected from JFK never arrived. This scheduled flight had been on its way. It had taken off from JFK. Then, there were mechanical problems discovered in the air. It turned around.

Hearing our flight was cancelled, we bolted downstairs to return to the counter via the one elevator that could only hold about eight people at a time… well over 200 people had to use that elevator.

Fortunately, Dave Peterson beat most of the crowd and begged on our behalf telling about our orphanage visit to the AA agent who helped us out. A few hours later, all five of us flew to MIA Miami where we just missed our connecting flight to EWR Newark.

More important was that we had made it to Miami where there would be many more flights to NY/NJ. And, AA put us up in our own rooms at the Crowne Plaza, an insect-and flying predator-free environment where the last thing I remember was the running hot water.


(_12) Maison Fortune Orphanage Background -- Jean Louis, the orphanage founder in Hinche, has made an extraordinary commitment. He could have simply made an exodus. But , instead, he brings a little bit of the promised land to the children at Maison Fortune. Today, a total of 170 children (boys and girls) live, eat, go to school there.

Currently about 45, Jean Louis never knew his mother and was raised by his father in the rural poverty of the central plateau around Hinche. As a boy, Jean Louis was on the verge of dropping out of school. For months, he lacked a proper uniform and money for books but still walked two hours each way wanting to learn.

One day, some Catholic religious Xaverian brothers asked the school about needy children. Jean Louis was called in by the school and told that the Xaverians would cover his tuition. Ultimately, Jean Louis did well enough in his studies and in English to gain a scholarship to Virginia Tech.

His intention was to study and bring back knowledge, cultivate, work the land. Fortunately for the future orphans, the promises of the Virginia Tech laboratory/classroom do not work well in Haitian earth. So, Jean Louis never took up cultivation and, instead, founded Maison Fortune.

The soil of Virginia has, however, borne fruit in Haiti in other ways. The Maison Fortune Orphanage foundation ( of Virginia Beach funds the orphanage with 98% of the money being spent on projects in Haiti. No Americans are employed; and, Maison Fortune/Jean Louis is now the largest employer (51 workers including school principal, teachers, cleaning staff, cooks, and others) in the city of Hinche.

At the orphanage today are two Xaverian brothers who were invaluable to us, Brother Michael and Brother Harry, both of whom want to live out their days in Hinche.

This remains to be seen as Harry has just returned to the U.S. for treatment of muscle/nerve pain (sciatica) and is in his mid-eighties. We dropped Harry off at PAP airport on 25 May, wondering if we were seeing his last day in Haiti.

(_13) Scholar/journalist comments – in April 2010 issue of Harper’s is an excellent article by Stephen Stoll (historian and visiting professor at Fordham), entitled “Toward a Second Haitian Revolution” .

Many of Haiti’s problems can be traced to the ground -- what is in it and what is not. Hardly the biggest problem is the lack of asphalt on the Hinche airstrip. Of greater concern are centuries of deforestation and neglect in the countryside and the scarcity of small farms. Stephen Stoll points out that Haiti has a relatively small population in the big cities, compared to other countries.

In other words, there are not so many people assembled together in big urban centers of 750,000 or more. Haiti has 20% in cities exceeding 750k. Other countries (whether or rich or poor) tend to be higher: Mexico 40%, Ecuador 31%, Dominican Rep. 22%; Canada 43%; France 27%; U.S. 47%.

Source: “Population Reference Bureau”

Development outside Port au Prince is critical now. Stoll believes Haiti, one day, might feed itself by investing in its own land and people. Unfortunately, this has not been the case as the agricultural producers are currently too large and ineffective and removed from the worker and from the hungry:

The elite [of Haiti] now own large, unproductive estates throughout the countryside. The challenge of development must be to make that land socially as well as economically productive. As for the food supply, imports will be necessary, but exports will follow when Haitians begin to meet their own critical needs.

Stoll observes that this development of small-scale farming has been achieved in other parts of the less developed world. Not every poor nation of the South imports its food from the rich North. People can and do live off the land in, for example, Nigeria, Cuba, and Java. A particular success is Uganda where three-quarters of the population (24 million people) eat what they grow in their own gardens.

Stoll urges reconsideration of what we mean by progress and productivity. The ideas of economic development have, for too long, been in the hands of big business who tend not to respect small scale landowners. For the wrong ideological reasons, “capitalists have hated the agrarian household since the seventeenth century, calling its members savages, outliers, slackers, and draggers … ”
Stoll points out that such contempt is long-lived in Haiti. Disdain for the small farmer goes back to early Haitian independence (i.e., to the 1791-1804 rebellion) when agribusiness (“plantation”) was overturned by the family farmer (“peasant and slave”). Stoll writes:

The plantation system crumbled in 1791, when the slaves stunned and terrified the American and European elite by enacting the most radical principles of the Enlightenment. They grabbed whips and hot irons out of the hands of their overseer, hanged their colonial overlords, fought off a British invasion, and defeated Napoleon’s army of occupation before declaring independence in 1804. No subjugated people had ever so upended the social order, and no one who had profited from that order forgave them.

Such lack of forgiveness – and exploitation - came especially rom France and the U.S. France was unforgiving in demanding reparation from her former colony. And, Haiti borrowed heavily in mid 1800’s to pay for the 150 million French francs. The U.S. was demanding in other ways, trying to keep European powers out of the western hemisphere (Monroe Doctrine) and, in doing so, interfered in Haitian affairs. A high point U.S. meddling (but hardly the end of it) was U.S. occupation of Haiti, 1915-1934.

After the Duvalier era of dictatorship (Papa Doc & Baby Doc) of 1957-1986, Haiti held its first free elections in 1990 which Jean-Bertrand Aristide won. Aristide’s record is mixed whether speaking to Haitians who supported him or the U.S. who has tried to depose him (1991 & 2004) or restore him (1995) depending on Washington’s mood. Aristide appeals to the poor and dispossessed, i.e., to most Haitians. His (or anybody’s) ability to get things done is a different story. By the way, Paul Farmer, M.D. is pro-Aristide and he speaks from vast experience as a physician and advocate for the poor in Haiti.’

The current president is Rene Preval, a protégé of Aristide, elected in 2006.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

A Repayment Plan (2010-06-13)

This is my homily for Sunday 13 June 2010, 13th Sunday in ordinary time. On-campus Mass at Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) Teaneck, NJ resumes 7:30 p.m. Sunday August 29 for the 2010-2011 school year. I am the Catholic chaplain for the community and FDU Newman Catholic Association.

[__01] One thing we all try to avoid – but nonetheless encounter is the burden of carrying debt, the burden of owing money.

To buy what we need, sometimes we have no choice but to borrow money or put in our VISA card. And, then we gradually pay off our debts.

Or, perhaps, we seek forgiveness of our debts.

And, we learn in the Gospel today about 2 individuals with different credit histories and balances:

“Two people were in debt to a certain creditor; one owed five hundred days’ wages and the other owed fifty. Since they were unable to repay the debt, he forgave it for both. Which of them will love him more?” Simon [the Pharisee] said in reply to Jesus, “The one, I suppose, whose larger debt was forgiven.” [Jesus] said to [Simon] him, “You have judged rightly.” (Luke 7:41-43)

The creditor forgives them both. And, the creditor symbolizes God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit and in whose debt we are, to whom we owe our lives.

[__02] Simon the Pharisee does not see himself as one of the two individuals in the parable because he pays off his debt – his balance – completely every month.

He sees this as a financial question, of net worth. And he’s doing just fine.

[__03] What Jesus is trying to tell Simon the Pharisee – and all of us – is that we are in debt, in debt to God’s mercy, in debt to Jesus who gives his life on the Cross.

This debt – these sins – are not paid off in monthly installments – but paid off every time we turn in repentance to God, to confess our sins.

We celebrate the repayment of this debt also when we receive Holy Communion, when we turn to God in prayer. And, we can always inquire of God – what is my debt? What are my sins?

It’s not a recorded message; we turn to Jesus personally to find this out.

[__04] Simon does not understand this fully, but someone else does.

Someone else who does not have such good credit. This is the woman whose sins - whose transgressions -- are well known.

This woman understands that Jesus will lay down his life for her and for us.

Thus, she anoints his feet.

What is this anointing?

In this anointing, we see the outpouring of oil. The spilling of oil on Jesus – the spilling of oil which is Good News.

We are “invited to see in this a symbolic embalming of His body as though he were already dead. She recognizes the singular significance of Jesus’ oncoming death.”

Simon, on the other hand, is able to see the faults and finances and sins of others quite well.

But, Simon does not really examine his own “statement” , his own life, in terms of the command to love God, love our neighbor and love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

We are invited to have the same vision – the same review of our lives – which this woman does.

[__05] And, we are all invited to see that our intelligence, ability, even our ability to work, our ability to do our homework, our ability to get grades in school, our ability to pay bills and pay our debts, are part of God’s mercy and love.

And, all of us are called to repentance… even if we only owe a little bit right now.

[__06] It is part of our Catholic tradition to reconcile ourselves . To seek this reconciliation not just monthly or every 2 weeks. But also daily. Every day.

For without reconciliation, our debts tend to grow.

And, time is money. But time is on our side when we turn to Jesus, to hear the Good News, to confess our sins, to come to him with repentance, and reach a zero balance. [__end__]

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Say the Word (6 June 2010, Corpus Christi)

This is my homily for Sunday 6 June July 2010, Corpus Christi. On-campus Mass at Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) Teaneck, NJ resumes 7:30 p.m. Sunday August 29 for the 2010-2011 school year. I am the Catholic chaplain for the community and FDU Newman Catholic Association.

[__01.] Today is Corpus Christi, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. And, the Good News today is that all in the crowd were served and satisfied.

Such service is how it turns out in the end. However, at first, after a long day, Peter, the Apostles, the Twelve do not want to satisfy the crowd, only themselves.

They are talking about the crowd's departure. We might re-state their words to Jesus as:

“Lord, they are not worthy to receive you - but only say the word and they shall … leave.”

The Twelve want to dismiss the crowd, to send them home. Peter and the apostles have other plans, perhaps reservations.

[__02.] What Jesus does is shake up their plans with a tentative assumption meant to draw out and test their logic, faith, service..

"Give them some food yourselves. "

This meant to arouse their minds and hearts of Peter and the apostles.

[__03.] Jesus first wants to know – do you, Peter, the Twelve even care for the crowd? The 5,000 – or even any one of the 5,000?

By your words you express concern for their welfare, their hunger, their ability to buy food, all before nightfall.

But, in your heart, are you really more concerned about your welfare, your hunger, your ability to buy food, all before last call?

The 12 are asked to stay on after a regular day’s work, to do a little extra.

Are you and I?

[__04.] For example, do we encounter the illness of a family member or loved one or the young child who needs our attention? Or, the person’s needs which have increased or changed.

With such challenges, we might also want to dismiss the crowd, avoid the crowd, or de-personalize the crowd.

One thing we might say about someone in need is – “well, you know, he or she is really not the same person anymore.” That’s one way to avoid responsibility.

He or she needs something that I cannot provide it; and, it’s getting dark now.

[__05.] A challenge implied in our Holy Communion is recognizing the union that we have in Christ.

To accept the extra burden, the burden of someone who needs us, rather than dismissing the crowd, letting them stay.

But what our Lord is telling the Twelve of them --- and the Twelve of us --- is that we will find our union with him, in the crowd and our happiness too by feeding the hungry person, the sick person … even the unattractive person … the person who seems not to be the same.

In the case of illness and age, a person we love perhaps has experienced a change in temperament or energy level or sleep pattern, our faith in Holy Communion tells us that he or she is still the same person.

[__06.] Someone whom I can love here and now.

Jesus is also telling the Twelve - to stay here for the blessing. To stay for the blessing so that the bread will be multiplied, so that the good work you and I do will also be multiplied.

Stay here and I will feed you and bless you and change you in to my body and blood.

What Jesus needs is for us to distribute his love, his Communion, his charity … and, especially for those in need, to pick up the fragments, the pieces left over which will form the one whole Body of Christ.

For he says the word and we all shall be healed. [__end__]