Coming home to a miracle

Dear Friends:

Today, I have come home to a miracle. Bishop’s driver picked me up and brought me straight to St. James the Just in Petion Ville, where you see damage in one spot and absolutely no damage in others.

In Place Ste. Pierre, across from my church and home, there are hundreds of tents with thousands of people living there.

At the church, we pounded on the gate and suddenly, at the other end of the corridor stood my friend, my tutor, Michelet Pierre. As his huge grin split his face, a huge grin split mine and my heart surged with joy while my eyes began to fill with tears. I had been told at the beginning of the month, on my visit with the Presiding Bishop, that Michelet was alive and well. But to lay eyes on him and wrap my arms around him was astounding. In the midst of this tragedy, I have found joy.

Then he took me upstairs to the third floor, where my apartment is. And lo and behold, it is fine! Things fell during the quake, but Michelet has been caring for it, even putting the art back on the walls. Both he and bishop assure me it is as safe to be here as it is anywhere, so I shall sleep here, they say. I will keep the tent, just in case, but so far, so good.

I have found all my belongings, and I must say, I am astonished and overjoyed. I had thought that perhaps all or at least part was gone, damaged, lost … but no. I am in awe.

And then there is the absolute joy of the walking down the street on which I live, where so many of my missing friends work. At the Kinam, Raul Charles, the head waiter whose two children I sponsor At the music school here at St. James, erupts with joy at seeing me. James, another waiter, is there as well. The guard recognizes me and welcomes me home.

I walk a little farther and find Anil, an art vendor, and Hercule, another vendor. They are at their corner, busy selling art to all the aid workers. We hug and dance with joy. Their families are all fine. I turn the corner again and there is Sadwa and Enil, and Enil (the other). We practically leap into each other’s arms. All are well. Some of their homes have been damaged or destroyed, but injuries are minor.

Where, I ask, are Tony and Frantzy Fleresca, my brothers who take such good care of me? Frantzi, I am told, is now driving a motorcycle for people. Tony is out on his. No one knows if he will be back today. Ernest, I ask? (He is a sweet and gentle old man, Anil’s father, who sells stone carvings but never pushes. I buy from him to make sure he has food to eat, and give him medicine for his arthritis.) He is OK, but no longer working.

The message is the same from so many: we are OK. We have been praying for you, trying to reach you. Our homes are damaged, but we are doing OK. We will rebuild. Haiti will rebuild.

The Christian Brothers School is now a clinic for Doctors Without Borders. There are many, many “blan” here, and they come out on the street to buy snacks, drinks, art. I meet two nurses outside the school and we begin to chat. Suddenly, I am grabbed from behind and nearly lifted off my feet. It is Tony! He was driving by when Anil spotted him, flagged him down, told him I was home, and ran up the street to bring Tony to me.

We dance and hug and cry, asking over and over, “Are you well? How is your family? I have been trying to call you, to text you, but could not get through.”

The two American women watch with joy on their faces. I explain that I was in the US during the quake, that I have been working there, that this is the first time we have been able to see each other. They laugh with delight, and leave us to visit.

For nearly seven weeks, I have been praying for this moment, fearing that it might not happen. Those I feared were lost have been found. Not all of them, no yet.

But slowly, one person at a time, I am finding joy in Haiti.

I know so many have been lost, so many are hurt. I k ow that not all my friends survived.

But some of the flock, some of my people, they are here and we have touched and hugged and laughed and wept with relief, and for that I give great thanks to God.

I will take pictures and write more. I will laugh more and, I know, cry more.

But I will never forget the miracle of my homecoming today.

Please continue to pray for the people of Haiti, for this beloved land where there is so much to be done, where the need is so great. Please continue to tell our story, to share from the beauty and bounty of your hearts. And tonight, please give thanks for the small miracles I have been part of today.

Blessings and peace,

Lauren

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A few days after the earthquake devastated Haiti, we at the Diocese of Haiti received a heart-rending message: Could we help find Dr. Frank Vaughters of Kansas City, Mo., who had been in Haiti on that day, volunteering as he had for so many years helping the women and children of Haiti? Dr. Vaughters had been at the Hotel Montana, and indeed had placed a call from there shortly before the quake struck.

I called one of Dr. Vaughters’ family members and offered our promises of help. Messages were sent to Haiti: Had any one seen Dr. Vaughters? Did anyone know his whereabouts? Could anyone help? Alas, every response was the same: We don’t know where he is. We are praying. We will keep looking.pastedGraphic.pdf

Dr. Frank Vaughters, left, with some of his staff.

Since that time, thousands around the world have been praying for Dr. Vaughters and for all those caught at the Hotel Montana, a high-class hotel perched on the edge of the mountain with the best view of Port au Prince. Rescue and recovery teams have been working since shortly after the quake, but as the hours passed, as the days passed, all hope was gone. For the past few weeks, the prayer now has been to bring home all the loved ones.

On Facebook, a Haiti Earthquake Hotel Montana page was created, where news and tears and prayers were shared daily.

Today, the news was released by Lisa Welker, Emma Vaughters’ mother: “Dear Friends, Yesterday the remains of Dr. Frank Vaughters were identified. Frank died participating in one of his passions-lessening the pain and suffering of Haitian women and children. In this we can take comfort. The kind words and support given to Emma, Katie, Andy, Libby, and our family during this long wait have been enormous-Thank You! The burden of waiting has been shared and we are grateful for this. As we begin closure, please continue to keep each Haitian person displaced by this disaster in your thoughts and hearts. A memorial service for Frank will be held April 10th, 1:00 pm at Saint Michael’s and All Angles Episcopal Church (67th and Nall) with Haitian friend and priest, Father Frantz Cole, delivering the Homily. Contributions will benefit children of Haiti. Fondly, Lisa Welker ( Emma Vaughters mom).”

I cannot be at that service. I never met Dr. Vaughters. All I know is what I have been told: That his passion was to care for those most in need. He worked with one of our priests, Pere Frantz Cole, and initially it had been hoped that Dr. Vaughters was in Leogane with Pere Fanfan. Alas, that was not so.

Like so many others, I mourn the passing of Dr. Vaughters, and of all those who died in the earthquake. So many other people are still missing, and we may never know their fate: Did they died instantly? Were they buried for days, hope fading? Are some of them, some of the Haitians, simply out in the provinces, unable to get word to everyone that they are alive?

There are still five others on the Facebook page for whom prayers are offered as the search continues: Roger Gosselin; Boucif Belhachami; Alexadre Bitton; Siegfried Francisco; and David Apperson. I do not know any of these people personally, but I hold them in my heart as well.

Tomorrow, I return to Haiti for a week to work for Bishop Jean Zaché Duracin, the Bishop of Haiti. I will be based in Petion Ville, which is where I live. My prayer is that I will be able to walk the streets and find so many of those I still hold in my heart. I pray I will find out the names of those of my parishioners who died. This will be the first of many trips back to Haiti, for that will be my life for a while: Time in Haiti, time in the United States, always with the focus of working for the people of Haiti.

And through it all, I will take with the special memory of a man I never met, Dr. Frank Vaughters, who signifies to me the love that so many have for Haiti, who gave his life helping those most in need.

Let us pray:

Almighty God and heavenly Father, in whom we live and move and have our being, receive into your loving arms your servant Frank, who cared so deeply for your beloved children in Haiti, along with all those others who lost their lives in Haiti’s devastation. Comfort those who mourn, and surround them with your love. Help them to know that life continues, even in the midst of grief, and that you are with them, every moment of their lives. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

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Committing to Haiti’s future

By Mary Frances Schjonberg, February 10, 2010

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[Episcopal News Service] The wider Episcopal Church can most effectively help the earthquake-ravaged Diocese of Haiti by praying, contributing to emergency relief efforts and planning how it will help the diocese achieve the rebuilding priorities that it will eventually set.

That is the assessment Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori came away with after visiting Port-au-Prince Feb. 8 to survey the damage wrought by Jan. 12 magnitude 7.0 earthquake.

Bishop Jean Zaché Duracin and other surviving members of the diocese need help now and they need time to discern a plan for the future, the presiding bishop told ENS during a Feb. 10 interview.

“The challenge is that they’re still very much in emergency-response mode and I think will be for some time to come,” she said. “They’re still not able to get food and water and shelter to everybody who needs it, so that’s got to be the immediate focus.”

Jefferts Schori also said she felt moved by the people who were hard at work at every site she visited. For example, she said, at the ruins of the Episcopal University of Haiti “it was just incredibly touching to see those folks at the university using mauls to break up the building pieces so that they can look for bodies — and they are clearly there, you can smell them.”

The presiding bishop said she went to Haiti after being a co-consecrator at the Rev. Griselda Delgado Del Carpio’s consecration and ordination as bishop coadjutor of the Episcopal Church of Cuba because it was essential to assure Duracin of the wider church’s support. Plus, she said she wanted “to get a sense of how we might be most helpful for the long haul.”

The diocese, known locally as L’Eglise Episcopale d’Haiti, is caring for about 25,000 Haitians in roughly 20 makeshift camps around the country. The earthquake left an estimated 230,000 people dead and many towns in ruins; countless people have left the capital for the countryside.

Jefferts Schori said that the wider church must remember that Haitian Episcopalians, including Duracin, are struggling to get their basic needs met, and that long-term planning will come later.

“The bishop is going to need his own support system in order to return to highly functional leadership,” she said. “Don’t expect the bishop to have a strategy; it is far too early for that. He’s dealing with his own immense losses.”

For instance, Duracin has only seen his severely injured wife Marie-Edithe three times since she was evacuated from Port-au-Prince a few days after the earthquake. Her severely injured leg was initially treated at Zanmi Lasante in Cange and later on the USNS Comfort hospital ship. From there, she and son James were transported Feb. 9 by the by U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force to Tampe General Hospital in Tampa. Diocese of Southwest Florida Bishop Dabney Smith is coordinating pastoral care for the Duracins.

Jefferts Schori said that once the emergency-response phase is behind them, Haitian Episcopalians will be able to begin stabilizing their diocese and strategizing about the future. While Episcopal Relief & Development is well-positioned to help the diocese with emergency needs and help it begin to set priorities for the future as well as develop strategies for meeting those priorities, she said, “ERD cannot do all of that. They do not, for example, rebuild church buildings.”

The presiding bishop suggested that “there’s going to be immense need for partnership for the longer term.”

“Dioceses [in the U.S. part of the Episcopal Church] can probably be most helpful by thinking about how they can mobilize people to assist in that work,” she said.

She suggested that those dioceses could “begin their own rebuilding funds with the trust that direction for how to use those funds is somewhere down the road.”

Meanwhile, Jefferts Schori said she wanted to discourage dioceses from deciding on their own that they will rebuild a specific Haitian church or diocesan ministry building.

“The priorities are going to need to come from the Diocese of Haiti — the priorities and the strategy — and it’s going to be some months before they begin to emerge,” she said.

Individual Episcopalians are called to prayer for their brothers and sisters in Haiti, she said, and to giving to Episcopal Relief & Development.

“You [also] can begin to challenge you parish and your diocese to begin to think about the longer-term rebuilding efforts,” she added. “Collecting funds for that is probably the most appropriate thing to do.”

Jefferts Schori urged Episcopalians to commit themselves to helping in what will be a multi-year process of recovery and redevelopment.

“The Diocese of Haiti has had a major impact for 150 years on the nation of Haiti,” she said. “They will be again, but it’s going to be a number of years before they are able to function at the same level they were before the earthquake.”

The presiding bishop acknowledged that such a long-term focus can be a challenge in itself.

“Maintaining an awareness of the ongoing nature of this tragedy is going to be the toughest for at least those of us who live in a society that moves on to the next issue,” she said.

Jefferts Schori visited Port-au-Prince with the Rev. Lauren Stanley, one of four Episcopal Church missionaries assigned to Haiti and the only one who was not in-country at the time of the Jan. 12 quake. Duracin has asked Stanley to help the diocese coordinate offers of relief and recovery made by others in the Episcopal Church, and to tell the diocese’s story.

“She’s a powerhouse. She’s working overtime. She’s working at 150 percent,” Jefferts Schori told ENS, noting that in Stanley’s first five months in Haiti she had established good working relationships with the Haitian clergy and learned to speak Creole.

“She understands very clearly the challenges and the systemic complications, so she is an immensely effective witness both here [in the U.S.] and in Haiti for the ongoing challenges and needs,” Jefferts Schori said.

— The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is national correspondent for the Episcopal News Service and editor of Episcopal News Monthly.


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‘You have already had your Good Friday,’ Jefferts Schori tells Duracin

By Mary Frances Schjonberg, February 08, 2010

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[Episcopal News Service] Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori paid a poignant visit to Port-au-Prince Feb. 8 to survey with Episcopal Diocese of Haiti Bishop Jean Zaché Duracin the devastation wrought by the Jan. 12 magnitude 7.0 earthquake.

After climbing over the ruins of the diocese’s Cathédrale Sainte Trinité (Holy Trinity Cathedral), the presiding bishop turned to Duracin and said “You should skip Lent this year; you have already had your Good Friday.”

“Yes, we can all sing Alleluias together,” Duracin replied, according to the Rev. Lauren Stanley, who accompanied Jefferts Schori on her five-hour visit.

Pointing to some of the cathedral’s 13 bells that were visible among the ruins and that appeared to be salvageable, Jefferts Schori said “they will ring again” and that the cathedral “will rise again,” according to Stanley.

While at the cathedral, Jefferts Schori and Duracin said prayers at what the Haitian bishop is calling the diocese’s “open-air cathedral,” which consists of some plastic sheeting stretched over a frame of two-by-fours that shelters some pews rescued from the cathedral ruins.

The two bishops each prayed aloud with those who happened to be at the site. Some of the older women members of the cathedral were combing the ruins for pieces of the building’s world-famous murals depicting biblical stories in Haitian motifs. The gathered congregation also sang “How Great Thou Art” in French, Stanley said.

During the visit, Stanley said, Duracin asked her to “tell the world that physically the church is broken, but the church is still there in faith. Our faith is still strong.”

She said the bishop asked for the support of Episcopalians everywhere to help Haitians rebuild the structures of the church because that work “will have a positive impact on our faith. It will bring us courage, confidence and a good future.”

“We are approaching Lent,” Stanley quoted Duracin as saying. “I ask people to be with us in the desert so that on Easter, all of us in Haiti and all the Episcopal Church may sing together in joy: ‘Alleluia, Alleluia, the Lord is risen indeed.'”

The trip was also meant for Jefferts Schori and Duracin to talk about the immediate and future directions of the diocese. The presiding bishop assured Duracin that the entire Episcopal Church stood with his diocese in prayer and support, and would continue to do so, according to Stanley.

Stanley is one of four Episcopal Church missionaries assigned to Haiti and the only one who was not in-country at the time of the Jan. 12 quake. Duracin has asked Stanley to help the diocese coordinate offers of relief and recovery made by others in the Episcopal Church, and to tell the diocese’s story.

Stanley said part of the discussion in Port-au-Prince centered on how she can continue to assist Duracin and the diocese by splitting her time between Haiti and the U.S. As part of that work, she will begin to help coordinate the work of Episcopalians elsewhere in the church who have interests in or connections with specific places and ministries in Haiti, she said.

Stanley said she was gratified to hear Duracin’s confidence in her ability to help the diocese connect more strongly with “our partners who are working together to help God’s beloved children in Haiti.”

Stanley, who spoke with ENS by phone from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, after the visit, said that Duracin wanted the presiding bishop to see the extent of the devastation the diocese suffered. While the full extent of damage is still being assessed, it is clear that most of the diocese’s churches and schools were destroyed or heavily damaged. The convent of the Sisters of St. Margaret, adjacent to the cathedral, was also destroyed.

The lost schools include the Holy Trinity complex of primary, music and trade schools next to the demolished diocesan cathedral, the university and the seminary. A portion of the St. Vincent School for Handicapped Children, also in the Haitian capital, collapsed. Students and possibly staff were killed at some of the schools.

Stanley said that Duracin, Jefferts Schori and she visited the Holy Trinity school complex, the Episcopal University and the survivors’ camp on a rocky field at College Ste. Pierre, a diocesan school destroyed by the quake. (The diocese, known locally as L’Eglise Episcopale d’Haiti, is caring for about 25,000 Haitians in roughly 20 makeshift camps around the country. Since the quake, many people have left the capital for the countryside.)

The three also surveyed Duracin’s home which collapsed in the quake, trapping and severely injuring his wife, Marie-Edithe. Duracin has told ENS that he is been spending his night sleeping in a tent outside another home that he was having built for his family.

The Rev. Kesner Ajax, head of the diocese’s Bishop Tharp Institute of Business and Technology (BTI) in Les Cayes, drove the three around the city. Everywhere they where they saw evidence of destruction and death, Stanley said.

The Holy Trinity music school once housed the country’s only concert hall, but now “you can see where it came smashing straight down and there are still bodies of our students in there as well,” Stanley said.

Duracin told them that “this is why we cannot just use a bulldozer” to clear the wreckage.

There is a common grave just outside of the Episcopal University and Stanley said they stopped to pray at that grave. One of the lower level classrooms that was destroyed usually had more than 100 students in it, she said, but only nine bodies have been found. People are going through the rubble by hand searching for the dead.

On the street outside the university, there is an outdoor holding cell for prisoners, Stanley said.

At the diocesan trade school, only the façade is still standing, Stanley said.

“There nothing left except bodies,” she said. “We could actually see one body at the ruins.”

Stanley said: “It was heart-wrenching to see the city that I love — to see the things that this church has done for so many years that makes me so proud to be an Episcopalian in Haiti — totally gone,” Stanley said. “It is beyond heart-breaking. I don’t have adequate words to describe the devastation.”

Jefferts Schori flew to Santo Domingo on Feb. 7 from Havana, Cuba, after being a co-consecrator at the Rev. Griselda Delgado Del Carpio’s consecration and ordination as bishop coadjutor of the Episcopal Church of Cuba. She and Stanley, who met her in the Dominican Republic capital, flew into Port-au-Prince the next day for the visit.

They brought with them a number of gifts and supplies for Duracin and the diocese, including six episcopal clergy shirts for the bishop that were a gift from the Church Pension Group, three liturgical stoles and 3,000 communion wafers from the presiding bishop, and pants and socks for Duracin and a bottle of Taylor tawny port communion wine from Stanley.

She also gave the bishop an alb and cincture that was purchased by Rhonda Busch, an administrator at Church of the Good Shepherd in Burke, Virginia. The church, where Stanley was priested and which still supports her missionary work, offered a requiem mass Feb. 4 for the victims of the earthquake who were members of the Church of St. James the Just in Pétionville, Haiti. Stanley serves the English-speaking congregation there.

“In our culture it is very important that the leader look like a leader,” Stanley said. “In the church in Haiti, it’s very important that the bishop look like the bishop because when he is properly dressed and properly vested then we know that he can take care of us and we know that we have not been forgotten.”

Duracin told Stanley that the bread and wine will be used Feb. 12 during the Episcopal Church’s part of the nationwide prayer services planned to mark the one month anniversary of the earthquake.

Stanley also brought with her a nearly 150-year-old brass cross that had once been part of a processional cross used by missionaries. She was given the cross by the Woodson family of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, whose members attend St. Paul’s Episcopal Church there. While looking through the rubble at College Ste. Pierre, Stanley said, the presiding bishop found a staff that might have been a short processional cross or a verger’s wand and which the three discovered fit the cross perfectly.

— The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is national correspondent for the Episcopal News Service and editor of Episcopal News Monthly.


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Haiti video address

One week after the earthquake, I was in North Carolina and met with The Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, Bishop of North Carolina. This is the interview that Bishop Curry conducted and then showed at the Diocese of North Carolina’s Annual Convention.

Diocese of North Carolina

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My people will not be forgotten

On Wednesday, I said a Requiem Mass for 14 of my parishioners at St. Jacques le Juste in Petion Ville, Haiti, who died in the earthquake on 12 January. I still don’t know who they are; I know only that 14 people, with whom I celebrated the Eucharist and life every week, are gone. I have been living with this painful unknowing for more than a week now, ever since I learned of their deaths. I have been living with the grief of not knowing the fate of more than 125 other friends. Are they alive? Did they survive? Are they injured, lost, alone? The unknown is frightful place to be, and it is where I, and so very many others, have lived for three long weeks now.

When a dear friend, The Rev. Larry Packard, rector of Good Shepherd in Burke, Va., learned about my parishioners’ deaths, he immediately offered me the pulpit and table. “You need this,” he said. “You need to do a Requiem for your parishioners, even if you don’t know who they are.” I accepted, with a trembling heart. We planned it for Wednesday, at the regular noonday service. I knew about it all week. I knew I needed to put together the service, to choose the hymns and the lessons, to prepare a sermon.

But every time I thought about it, tears welled in my heart and in my eyes. I wanted to say this Mass. I wanted to honor those who have died. I wanted so very much to be faithful. But the pain of this loss seemed too great. So I would approach it in my heart, then back away, approach again, draw back again … Finally, on Tuesday night, I realized: I couldn’t draw back any more. It was time to enter into the grief fully.

My friend and assistant, Matthew Lukens, helped me choose the readings, the prayers, even the music. I wanted something simple, with readings that addressed the grief, hymns that praised the Lord, prayers that wrapped all of those who died in God’s loving arms. I wanted Isaiah’s comfort “for those who mourn;” Paul’s profound statement of faith that “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus;” John’s promise of a better dwelling place for my people. I chose hymns we sing in French at St. Jacques le Juste: I come with joy to meet my Lord; Lord of all hopefulness, Lord of all joy; Humbly I adore thee.

Wednesday morning, it snowed in Northern Virginia. For a short time, I thought the service would be canceled, and a part of me drew back and said, “Good,” because I was afraid of this service, afraid of the pain. But then the sun came out and the snow started melting, I knew: We were going to pray for these people, for my people.

Taking my shower, I wept as the water splashed across my face. I begged God for the strength to do this, because even in my fear, I was determined – determined – that my friends, my people, were going to be honored. I may not know for whom I am praying, but God does. And God honors them. Ah, I thought, feeling a small sense of peace …

I changed the first reading to Ecclesiasticus: Let us now sing the praises of famous men … (who) made a name for themselves … Some of them have left behind a name, … but of others there is no memory; … But these also were godly men … their name lives on generation after generation. Even though I don’t know their names, God does, and their names live in God from generation to generation.

Almost as soon as I arrived at Good Shepherd for the service, I began to weep anew. Friends came and stood with me, hugging me quietly, sharing my pain, giving me strength. Standing at the back of the church, vested with a white stole, I sought comfort in the looming Good Shepherd stained-glass mosaic above the altar. This is the parish where I was ordained a priest, where I said my first Eucharist, where I baptized my first child, officiated at my first wedding, buried my first parishioner. At this altar, under this portrait of the loving God, I have found peace in the past, and I sought peace there this morning.

It was not an easy service. The readings pierced my heart, the hymns pierced my soul. I barely was able to read the Gospel; I wept throughout the sermon.

I don’t know, I said, if those we mourn this day are famous … was it Nancy, whose husband founded the symphony orchestra, or Ghislaine, who gave me my first French Bible, so that I could read the Gospel in French on Sundays? Or are those we mourn the little girls who helped me translate We Are Marching In The Light Of God into Creole, and then marched around the church with me, singing at the top of our lungs? I don’t know, I wept, but God does.

Paul got it right, I said. Every single Haitian I know is telling me: Nothing, not even this huge earthquake, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. The faith is strong in Haiti, I said. I’ve never seen such a committed, joyful, open faith. The people know God has not abandoned them.

Most of my parishioners at St. Jacques are not poor, I said. But most of my friends on the street are. And those who died now have, for the first time in their lives, their own dwelling places, and they are magnificent places indeed. And I know that my friends, I said, are having one hell of a party in heaven right this second, secure in their new homes.

I had to stop numerous times. This wasn’t eloquence; it was, instead, heart-wrenching.  It was a cry from the depths of my soul for all the pain that has descended upon my adopted home of Haiti, for my adopted family there, for my friends, so many of whom are still missing to me, because I cannot locate them, have not heard from them. This was my way of honoring all that pain, of offering it up to God, because this pain is far too great a burden for me to carry alone.

I thanked all those who came to the service and told them: When I return to Haiti, I will celebrate another Requiem for my people there, and I will carry all of you with me in my heart, and at the table in the place where we became family, we will pray for our people, for our family, together. Thank you for being part of this pain.

After the prayers, we did the laying on of hands, Larry and I moving from parishioner to parishioner, saying the prayers over these hurting souls who needed healing for themselves. Afterward, I knelt in the same spot where I was ordained a priest in God’s one holy catholic apostolic church and wept again as all gathered around me to lay hands on and pray over me. At the peace, we all hugged, holding each other close, letting yet more tears fall.

The Eucharist was, I believe, the most intimate I ever have celebrated. I was surrounded by love and could feel the presence of those who, having reached the Omega of this life, have gone on to the Alpha of the rest of their lives. God’s marvelous peace, which indeed passes all understanding, embraced us.

For the past 12 years, ever since I was ordained, I have written the names of those whom I have buried in my Book of Common Prayer. Wednesday, I wrote, in big, bold black letters across the first page of the Burial Service: Requiem Mass for St. Jacques le Juste, 3 February 2010.

Then I took that tattered, well-traveled, falling apart, incredibly well-used prayerbook, which I have had for 18 years and which has traveled with me all over the world, and I retired it. I placed it in a box with the service bulletin for the Mass, and stored it away. It will be kept in a safe place, remembered and honored as my friends are remembered and honored. The entry for my parishioners, for my friends, for my people, is the last one I will make in it. It is one small way I can honor my people.

Out of the depths I have cried, and am crying, and will continue to cry …

My people will not be forgotten. Their names live on generation after generation, in my heart and in God’s.

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Prednisone vs prednisolone

On Wednesday, I said a Requiem Mass for 14 of my parishioners at St. Jacques le Juste in Petion Ville, Haiti, who died in the earthquake on 12 January. I still don’t know who they are; I know only that 14 people, with whom I celebrated the Eucharist and life every week, are gone. I have been living with this painful unknowing for more than a week now, ever since I learned of their deaths. I have been living with the grief of not knowing the fate of more than 125 other friends. Are they alive? Did they survive? Are they injured, lost, alone? The unknown is frightful place to be, and it is where I, and so very many others, have lived for three long weeks now.

When a dear friend, The Rev. Larry Packard, rector of Good Shepherd in Burke, Va., learned about my parishioners’ deaths, he immediately offered me the pulpit and table. “You need this,” he said. “You need to do a Requiem for your parishioners, even if you don’t know who they are.” I accepted, with a trembling heart. We planned it for Wednesday, at the regular noonday service. I knew about it all week. I knew I needed to put together the service, to choose the hymns and the lessons, to prepare a sermon.

But every time I thought about it, tears welled in my heart and in my eyes. I wanted to say this Mass. I wanted to honor those who have died. I wanted so very much to be faithful. But the pain of this loss seemed too great. So I would approach it in my heart, then back away, approach again, draw back again … Finally, on Tuesday night, I realized: I couldn’t draw back any more. It was time to enter into the grief fully.

My friend and assistant, Matthew Lukens, helped me choose the readings, the prayers, even the music. I wanted something simple, with readings that addressed the grief, hymns that praised the Lord, prayers that wrapped all of those who died in God’s loving arms. I wanted Isaiah’s comfort “for those who mourn;” Paul’s profound statement of faith that “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus;” John’s promise of a better dwelling place for my people. I chose hymns we sing in French at St. Jacques le Juste: I come with joy to meet my Lord; Lord of all hopefulness, Lord of all joy; Humbly I adore thee.

Wednesday morning, it snowed in Northern Virginia. For a short time, I thought the service would be canceled, and a part of me drew back and said, “Good,” because I was afraid of this service, afraid of the pain. But then the sun came out and the snow started melting, I knew: We were going to pray for these people, for my people.

Taking my shower, I wept as the water splashed across my face. I begged God for the strength to do this, because even in my fear, I was determined – determined – that my friends, my people, were going to be honored. I may not know for whom I am praying, but God does. And God honors them. Ah, I thought, feeling a small sense of peace …

I changed the first reading to Ecclesiasticus: Let us now sing the praises of famous men … (who) made a name for themselves … Some of them have left behind a name, … but of others there is no memory; … But these also were godly men … their name lives on generation after generation. Even though I don’t know their names, God does, and their names live in God from generation to generation.

Almost as soon as I arrived at Good Shepherd for the service, I began to weep anew. Friends came and stood with me, hugging me quietly, sharing my pain, giving me strength. Standing at the back of the church, vested with a white stole, I sought comfort in the looming Good Shepherd stained-glass mosaic above the altar. This is the parish where I was ordained a priest, where I said my first Eucharist, where I baptized my first child, officiated at my first wedding, buried my first parishioner. At this altar, under this portrait of the loving God, I have found peace in the past, and I sought peace there this morning.

It was not an easy service. The readings pierced my heart, the hymns pierced my soul. I barely was able to read the Gospel; I wept throughout the sermon.

I don’t know, I said, if those we mourn this day are famous … was it Nancy, whose husband founded the symphony orchestra, or Ghislaine, who gave me my first French Bible, so that I could read the Gospel in French on Sundays? Or are those we mourn the little girls who helped me translate We Are Marching In The Light Of God into Creole, and then marched around the church with me, singing at the top of our lungs? I don’t know, I wept, but God does.

Paul got it right, I said. Every single Haitian I know is telling me: Nothing, not even this huge earthquake, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. The faith is strong in Haiti, I said. I’ve never seen such a committed, joyful, open faith. The people know God has not abandoned them.

Most of my parishioners at St. Jacques are not poor, I said. But most of my friends on the street are. And those who died now have, for the first time in their lives, their own dwelling places, and they are magnificent places indeed. And I know that my friends, I said, are having one hell of a party in heaven right this second, secure in their new homes.

I had to stop numerous times. This wasn’t eloquence; it was, instead, heart-wrenching.  It was a cry from the depths of my soul for all the pain that has descended upon my adopted home of Haiti, for my adopted family there, for my friends, so many of whom are still missing to me, because I cannot locate them, have not heard from them. This was my way of honoring all that pain, of offering it up to God, because this pain is far too great a burden for me to carry alone.

I thanked all those who came to the service and told them: When I return to Haiti, I will celebrate another Requiem for my people there, and I will carry all of you with me in my heart, and at the table in the place where we became family, we will pray for our people, for our family, together. Thank you for being part of this pain.

After the prayers, we did the laying on of hands, Larry and I moving from parishioner to parishioner, saying the prayers over these hurting souls who needed healing for themselves. Afterward, I knelt in the same spot where I was ordained a priest in God’s one holy catholic apostolic church and wept again as all gathered around me to lay hands on and pray over me. At the peace, we all hugged, holding each other close, letting yet more tears fall.

The Eucharist was, I believe, the most intimate I ever have celebrated. I was surrounded by love and could feel the presence of those who, having reached the Omega of this life, have gone on to the Alpha of the rest of their lives. God’s marvelous peace, which indeed passes all understanding, embraced us.

For the past 12 years, ever since I was ordained, I have written the names of those whom I have buried in my Book of Common Prayer. Wednesday, I wrote, in big, bold black letters across the first page of the Burial Service: Requiem Mass for St. Jacques le Juste, 3 February 2010.

Then I took that tattered, well-traveled, falling apart, incredibly well-used prayerbook, which I have had for 18 years and which has traveled with me all over the world, and I retired it. I placed it in a box with the service bulletin for the Mass, and stored it away. It will be kept in a safe place, remembered and honored as my friends are remembered and honored. The entry for my parishioners, for my friends, for my people, is the last one I will make in it. It is one small way I can honor my people.

Out of the depths I have cried, and am crying, and will continue to cry …

My people will not be forgotten. Their names live on generation after generation, in my heart and in God’s.

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