Monday, 16 January 2012

What I Saw In Haiti: Chapter 8

So, it's been ages since I've updated my Haiti story. It's been ages since I've done much blogging of any kind. Hopefully, I'll be able to rectify that in this new year, starting with this post! Things from this point will begin to be a bit less chronological, as much of what happened between Monday and Friday has become somewhat blurred in my memory. But Monday itself is pretty etched in my mind. It was an important day.
In his First Apology, St. Justin Martyr describes the celebration of the Christian Liturgy in great detail. Despite writing in c. AD 150, it describes what happens even today at every Catholic Mass. At the end of the 65th chapter, after describing the Liturgy, he mentions that Deacons would take the Eucharist to those who could not be at Mass for various reasons. While today, this ministry is performed by priests and deacons still, it has been opened up to certain commissioned laypeople as well, known as "Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion" (Priests and Deacons, of course, being "Ordinary" Ministers of Holy Communion).

In Beau-Sejour, there is a very elderly gentleman named Père Dodou, who was somewhere in his late 80s or early 90s. In a previous chapter, I mentioned the oldest man in the village, Tonton Jan, and how the respect he was afforded made him something akin to the mayor of Beau-Sejour. If Tonton Jan was the mayor, then Père Dodou was his deputy. Due to his advanced age, and the infirmity which accompanies it, Père Dodou could not make the trek to the church for Mass. One of his family members asked Père Ronal if he would bring the Eucharist to him. Père Ronal agreed, saying that he would bring it after the morning Mass on Monday. Father Bill was invited to come along, and he in turn invited any of the team who wanted to go--to which I enthusiastically agreed.

That Monday morning, I was roused by Fr. Bill outside the tent calling anyone in our tent who wanted to go to morning Mass to get up. I hastily got dressed, brushed my teeth, and hurried around to the front of the church (remember, our tent was directly behind the church--would that I lived so close to my parish now!) While Sunday Mass is in a more formal French, daily Mass was said in Créole--and so all the progress I thought I'd made in understanding Mass from Sunday was rendered rather useless. Nevertheless, the Mass is the Mass (and, by the end of the week, attending Daily Mass in Créole, I was managing to make some pretty good headway--even understanding large portions of the homilies!), and Jesus is truly present, whether I understand all the words.

After the event that was Sunday Mass, I was somewhat expecting the turnout at daily Mass to be larger. In this I was somewhat disappointed. It's rather comparable to the regular turnout in Canada. What did surprise and impress me, though, was how many men attended daily Mass! In Haiti, Catholicism isn't just a religion "for women and children". Not that it is here, either, despite the derisive epithets of the "enlightened".

After Mass, I joined Père Ronal and Fr. Bill as we prepared to visit Père Dodou. Accompanying two vested priests, as well as a few other Haitien men who were, if I recall correcctly, members of the Legion of Mary, seemed to me very like a scene out of the Ancient Church of St. Justin Martyr's day.

Père Dodou's home was something that we here would consider a hut. In fact, I'm pretty sure the Haitiens living in Port-au-Prince would consider it the same! It was a small, one story house of wood, with probably no more than three or four rooms. Beside it on his little property was a corn-mill, as well as a few chickens running about. Despite being a hut, though, Père Dodou's wife kept it immaculate. In the room we were in (I suppose one might call it the living room), the table was covered in white linen, and the floor newly swept. Père Dodou and his family were there, as were Père Ronal, Fr. Bill, the couple of gentlemen who came with us, and myself. I honestly didn't know what to expect. I suppose I thought that bringing the Eucharist to someone who couldn't make it to Mass simply involved showing up, giving them the Host, maybe praying a prayer, and then leaving. What actually happens is a whole mini-liturgy, where the Gospel is proclaimed, the Our Father is prayed together, and the Rite of Communion is carried out. I was struck by the beauty, the simplicity, and the reverence of it all. This was no mere external religious exercise. This really was bringing Jesus Himself to others!

When the Blessed Virgin Mary brought to Elizabeth our pre-natal Lord, John the Baptist leapt in Elizabeth's womb, and she blessed Our Lady and the Fruit of her womb. The experience of brining Jesus, similarly hidden in the Eucharist as He was then inside of His Mother, to Père Dodou, was an amazing blessing, not only for him, but also for me. It reaffirmed once again the truth that Jesus is truly Present in the Eucharist, and put a desire in my own heart to be able to bring Him to others who would otherwise miss out on Communion with Him due to their infirmity.

As a result of this visitation to Père Dodou, when I returned home, my wife and I took the training to become Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, and I have been blessed again and again to be able to bring Our Precious Lord, and His peace and companionship to sick and lonely people in our parish community. The effects of our journey to Haiti continue to ripple out, both for the people of Beau-Sejour, and for the members of my team. May we continue to bless each other through this Twinning Project!
In our next chapter, I'll narrate some surprising results of Saturday's afternoon spent sketching the people of Beau-Sejour, as the team gets down to work!

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