The Rose Named Laetare
2023 Easter Message from Fr. Rick Frechette in Haiti
Dear Family and Friends,
Thilus just came back to us today, taking THREE MONTHS to get from Jacmel to Port au Prince.
He is 2 years old, his belly is tight like a drum and nearly bursting from an enormous and sick liver,
he has grey and flaking skin, he is weak and exhausted.
Jacmel is usually a FEW HOURS from Port au Prince by car. A little bit more by bus.
But not when your bus and everyone in it is KIDNAPPED crossing Martissant, on roads totally controlled by thieves,
and especially if there is no one on earth who can pay your ransom.
Some “non ransomed” are just killed.
It’s the most pragmatic solution for the gangs,
and yet a totally barbaric and disdainful crime against humanity.
But Thilus and his mother and father were fortunate.
They were lucky enough to be part of a group enslaved for three months, instead of being killed.
Three months in human bondage, his father did forced construction in the ghetto.
His mother scrubbed pots and pans and carried water, while Thilus lay on the floor in pain.
They were slaves to those who terrorize the population.
Unlucky enough to get cancer.
Lucky enough to find our St Damien Hospital for treatment, and a temporary shelter nearby.
Unlucky enough to be robbed and violently driven out of the shelter by heavily armed bandits.
Lucky enough to get back to Jacmel and away from the deadly Port au Prince.
Unlucky enough to get sicker and sicker.
Lucky enough that St Damien Hospital was still functioning, in a country of toppling institutions.
Unlucky enough to get kidnapped while returning, spending three months with no medical care as a kidnapped, cancer infested hostage.
Lucky enough to be finally freed from human bondage, and return again to Dr Gassant and the St Damien team.
Unlucky enough to be incurable because of the tragic interferences with his treatments,
Yet lucky enough to fall into the hands of Brother Daniel, CP and of Sister Myriam, SvCh at our St Luke Hospital, who care for him and his family in a hospice setting,
while St Damien mercifully provides palliative care.
For Thilus, to be surrounded with love as the centerpiece of his end-of-life care
is the soft light of goodness shining through the ominous and deeply purple cloud
which has hung over his two years of life.
Purple, lit up by soft white, is rose.
The color purple marks the Catholic journey though Lent.
Forty long days representing forty long years
of journey to the Promised Land..
Purple vestments, purple banners, purple altar dressings.
The purple of wounds, of brokenness, of shame and humiliation, of helplessness.
The purple of the violently trampled grapes of wrath.
Purple is the heavy mantle, the pall, that overshadows the heavy Lent of Thilus, and in fact these days, of almost all Haitians.
And yet every forth Sunday of Lent, the Church proclaims hope through a brighter color, even if ever so briefly.
Suddenly, for one day of the forty, the purple vestments and altar dressings are illuminated by the soft lights that only darkness reveals-
the gentle light of the stars and the moon.
And thus purple gives way to rose, with the beauty and hope it brings.
The name of the Rose is Laetare,
For many long and dreadful weeks now, we are living with the deep purple of hearts anguished and sorrowful
over the disappearance of two beloved colleagues and friends, both taken off the streets.
We are in a hell of suffering for them.
We are in such deep hell that even to recover their bodies would be merciful,
to finally know whether dead or alive, to be able to grieve.
Imagine how low we are.
We wish for their bodies. It’s the wish of many families in Haiti with disappeared loved ones.
To find what is left of the one you love would be like finding a rose among many, very nasty thorns.
We are constantly surrounded by brutal happenings.
Everywhere, every day.
Within the last fortnight in La Boule
bandits attacked a public transport truck full of market women, robbing and killing them, and trampling their produce.
Once survivor told Gena a woman begged for her life
“I have three children, who will care for them?”
Gunshots. Blow, blow, blow.
Yet her last words of pleading were a testament to love, and to motherhood, to who she was a phenomenally courageous woman in the face of evil.
She is a hero of the highest category, and yet it is too hard to look at the golden halo of her heroism.
Your eyes will burn from sorrow, as they will burn when looking directly at the golden sun.
But the sun, and her heroism, are the light of true gold.
There are many people all around the world right now, some even reading these words,
whose lives have been so broadsided and crushed, that they understand how true it is that
sometime even terrible news is a merciful relief from what is totally unbearable,
And so it is that palliative care in a war zone is better than dying abandoned, in poverty and pain,
So it is that being a slave for a while can be better than being killed today.
So it is that recovering the body of the one you love can be more merciful
then forever waiting for them to come through the door again.
It has been said that in simple terms theology is the study of what God thinks.
Really? Then what a job it would be to know what God can possibly think of all we are living.
In many religious traditions, the thinking of the master is learned by the disciple’s intense imitation of how the master lives.
You learn the Way by walking it.
Action is thinking externalized, and so a disciples outer imitation generates the inner understanding.
No words are necessary.
In the readings for Lent, Fifth Sunday, Jesus wept abundant tears for his friend Lazarus,
when taken up in the grief of Martha and Mary.
His sufferings illuminated the purple of his grief with Divine light,
and he was empowered by wisdom and grace.
He silenced the boast of sin and grave.
Weeping for the refugees who perish on dangerous journeys in search of freedom,
in the Darien pass, in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea, or off the coast of Puerto Rico,
teach us well about God’s vision and will.
We know His Mind by enter His Way of being.
The life of Jesus as God-Man was a passionate search for wisdom, ever summoning and refining deep visions,
the fruit of which led him to always speak the healing word
and act with heroic courage.
Similarly, for those who cannot escape the wild and painful throws of life, the Holy Writings become fountains of grace and strength,
They are not read as hobby, or curiosity, or as something clever to write on a greeting card
but rather pondered with intensity every time you suddenly find yourself in agony under an olive tree,
or haunted by catastrophic thoughts in an inner howling desert.
The Holy Writings are poured over, like a captain in dangerous seas who is glued without respite to navigational charts,
or the way an architect studies and draws, calculates and redraws, compares and modifies his plans,
before daring to build the vast bridge over troubled waters.
Here is a clear message about what God thinks:
“We were not placed here to do the possible.
God did not breathe His innermost depths into our ordinary flesh and blood
to achieve what is easy and ordinary.
We are here to do the impossible.
To fill the tired world with a light it does not know.
To make the blind see, the deaf hear,
to make the bittersweet, and the darkness shine.
When they tell you, ‘You can’t go down that path, it is impossible!’
— you should recognize in those words the invitation to your destiny.”
(Rabbi Tzvi Freeman)
We are here to turn the purple of agony into the purple of royalty.
We are here to turn the purple of royalty into rose
and to use the rose to paint the dawn of a new day,
and then to pray as the pink sky of morning
cedes to the golden splendor of the midday sun,
the gold rays that crown the crops and the lilies of the field,
the gold of victory.
Speaking of victory, a few months ago we appealed for your help
for a pediatrician named Sherlyne, who trained at St Damien Hospital,
and was languishing in the purple shadows of death some hours from Port au Prince.
Thanks to God’s blessing and so many answered prayers,
thanks to her inner strength and determination
thanks to the persistence of family, friends and colleagues
thanks to the hospitals in Haiti that worked their cures as best they could
in this troubled land of scarcity and want
and thanks to our stellar friends at St Alphonsus Hospital
whose received Sherlyne into their embrace of care and healing,
Sherlyne is victorious, and though faced with many challenges, is ready for life again,
and eager to hold her 3 month old baby once more in her arms.
This is the face of Easter.
Look around. Alleluia is everywhere.
Thank you for your ongoing help for our work, which is tough but beautiful,
which is for us a privilege, and which has never been more needed.
The thorns are too real, but let’s continue to gather the precious roses together.
It’s a beautiful work of God.
Peace, Happy Easter, and all good things!
Fr. Rick Frechette CP, D.O.
Port au Prince
March 31, 2023