Haiti, get up!

The Fourth Sunday of Easter, 25 April 2010, Year C, St. Jacques le Juste, Petion Ville, Haiti

Today’s reading from the Book of Acts is actually a parable about Haiti. It is a parable that speaks of who we are and what is happening in Haiti right now. I know that might not make sense, but bear with me and you will see: The story of Tabitha is our story.

In Acts, we are told the story of a disciple of Jesus named Tabitha, a woman who did many good works and who cared for those in need. Tabitha took ill, and then she died. As was the tradition in her culture, she had to be buried before sundown. So her family took her body, washed it, laid it out on a table, and then they sent for Peter, who was nearby. Come quickly, they said. Tabitha has died.

Peter came, made everyone leave the room, prayed over Tabitha and then said to her, “Tabitha, get up!”

And she did. She opened her eyes, saw Peter and got up. Because of her resurrection, we are told, many people believed in the Lord.

This story is a parable our own lives right here and right now because it is so similar to everything going on in Haiti. The earthquake came; many died; more were injured. The world saw this and said, “Ah, Haiti is dead.” Many in the world rushed here to help; others gave generously. But still, there was the thought, a thought sometimes said aloud, that Haiti was dead.

I know this. Bishop Duracin has me working in both the United States and Haiti, so I hear what is being said and I read what is being written. There are many who believe that Haiti cannot recover from this tragedy. There are some who say that Haiti should become a commonwealth of the United States. That the government of Haiti should be removed. That the constitution should be rewritten. There are those who claim that Haitians cannot direct the recovery, that “they” know better what needs to happen, that “they” should be in charge.

These people – they don’t know Haiti. They don’t know Haitians.

Because what they are saying is not true! Haiti is not dead!

It is not dead because Haiti and its people are listening to God, to the Good Shepherd who knows them each by name, and whose voice they know. Haitians are paying attention to the one voice that is calling to them.

And what is God, what is the Good Shepherd, saying to us here?

“Haiti, get up!”

“Get up!”

• • •

Three weeks ago, the Diocese of Haiti held its Synod, the Synod that had been delayed by the earthquake of Jan. 12.  Many of us went – priests, deacons, lay delegates – and at the Synod, we were given a message by Bishop Duracin:

“Haiti, Leve Kanpe Pou Ou Mache!

“Haiti, Stand Up and Walk!”

Haiti, get up!

And we are getting up and we will get up, because we do listen to the voice of God. Haiti is one of the most God-fearing countries I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been in a lot of countries. Haitians are Christians. They know God. They love God.

So when God says to us here in Haiti, “Get up!”  that’s what we need to do.

Get up!

No matter how hard it seems, no matter the difficulties we encounter.

And yes, there are difficulties.

The Psalmist this morning speaks of walking through the valley of death.  That is certainly true here right now. Just look out the door. Look at your own homes, at your own lives. Every single person in this room has lost someone, many of you have lost many people, more of you have lost your homes. You are walking through the valley of death.

But the Psalmist also is clear: We have no need to fear evil, because God is with us.

God is the one who is calling us, who is telling us to get up.

God, the Good Shepherd, the one we all know by name, the one whose voice we have heard before and are hearing now and will hear forever, is speaking to us right now.

Haiti is not dead.

Haiti is alive, and its people are alive, and its faith is alive.

Those of you who are here to help Haiti are here because you, too, hear God calling to you: Get up! God says.

That is our mission now: Not just to get up ourselves, but to help Haiti get up. The Church is leading the way, but we can only do so if we listen to the voice we know best, the voice of the one who loves us.

Get up!

Get up!

Get up!


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Packed and not so ready to go

Thursday in Easter week:

Dear Beloved in Christ:

It is my last night in Haiti for two weeks, and even though I am packed and almost ready to go, there is a large part of me that wants to stay. Yes, I look forward to the amenities of the U.S., but it is hard to leave behind my friends here, my family here, my colleagues, and even the people on the street whom I do not know but see daily.

It’s been nearly three months since the earthquake. I do see some progress; I see buildings going up (some of which do not look safe in the least, to be honest). And yet, I still see more buildings that have yet to be taken down. Driving through Port au Prince several times this week, I’ve seen more and more government workers out — easily identifiable by their bright yellow T-shirts — removing rubble, clearing more streets, trying hard to improve life.

But those improvements are slow in coming. I don’t know that most of the world understands yet how complete this devastation is. One of the priests here told me just yesterday that every single one of his churches was destroyed in the earthquake. Every single one. He needs large tents — as do many of our other priests — in order to have a place in which to hold worship, so that the people don’t have to stand in the brutal sun or get drenched by the rains. We still have buildings that are pancaked, still have buildings that are atilt, still have to maneuver around rubble in the streets.

And we still have hundreds of thousands of people who are homeless. They live in tents, sometimes in camps, sometimes on their own property. A friend just sent me a text message telling me that the front porch of their house collapses this week after several more small but still deadly aftershocks. He and his wife still cannot live in their own home.

Walking the streets, you are overwhelmed by the smells — of food being cooked on the sidewalks, of unwashed bodies, of no sanitation. The tents are right on top of each other … people have a “living space” of approximately two square feet per person, if that. It is absolutely amazing that this many weeks later, people still have no place to live.

And then there is the rain. Last night, a sudden downpour flooded the capital. Literally. I was having dinner with some friends when the rains began. We joked about how it wouldn’t be so bad running across the street to get home, because at least then we could wash the dust off of us from our long day of travel. When the rains abated — somewhat — we headed for the door, and discovered a gushing river in what was our street. The water was filthy and running fast, so fast that I wondered if we would be able to keep our footing. I had my backpack with my computer in it, and didn’t want to attempt a three-foot jump onto a slippery step leading to my church and apartment. So I waded through the water, carefully trying to plant each foot. The Lord alone knows what was in that river of filth; all I can tell you is that within minutes of arriving home, my feet were on fire. I couldn’t wash them fast enough or even enough to rid myself of that feeling.

And I have the blessings of having an actual apartment, on the third floor, to which to retire. I have buckets of more-or-less clean water in which to bathe. The people on the streets? In the tents? They have nothing. Some in the tent city across from my church draw water from our reservoir every day … without that, I do not know what they would do.  On Easter night, a woman showed up at the gate at 9 p.m. There were 12 one-gallon jugs of water waiting for her. She took two jugs in each hand, and made three trips to where she is staying.

Such is life in Haiti.

And yet, at our Diocesan Synod this week — delayed 10 weeks by the earthquake — there was much joy as well. The parishes took up collections on Easter Sunday to begin the fund for the reconstruction of Holy Trinity Cathedral. Each priest presented that money at Synod, in a joy-filled service on Tuesday. For the offertory, the people of the parish of Bon Sauveur in Cange literally danced up the aisle with their offerings: fruits, grains, sugar cane, farming tools, live roosters, a live turkey (which might be what we ate the next day …), vegetables and more. It’s a traditional offering, complete with dance and song, and is a celebration of the fruits of our lives. It also gives new meaning to the liturgical saying, “All things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee.” Truly, the people of Haiti give back to the Lord on a daily basis, even when they don’t have much to give.

Which makes it harder to leave every single time. Because if they can and do give so much, if they are suffering so much, how can I simply come and go so much? But … that is the assignment Bishop Duracin has given me, and right now, it is the best use of my gifts. So, I pack up once again, cover up my belongings here with sheets to keep the dust off, and head out to the airport. In less than two weeks, I’ll be back, so it isn’t as though I am leaving my adopted country forever. I just have to keep one foot in America, one foot in Haiti, going back and forth, for a while to come.

And even in the midst of all this devastation, there are good things to see. Walking down the streets, I see so many of my friends, and I know that strangers continue to be astounded at the joy of each meeting. This is Haiti — here we greet each other with hugs and kisses on the cheek. We laugh, we joke, we arrange to get together, we make sure that we know where each of us is, and what we are doing, we try to help each other. My street artist friends are delighted to know that the paintings I buy from them are to be sold in the U.S., and that their work in turn will fund the rebuilding of this nation. My vendor friends keep cold drinks hidden away for me, knowing that as I walk by, I will ask for my too-sweet-but-filling Tampico orange drinks. The children on the street play games with me — thumb warfare sometimes, other times just the word games we play about asking for money. The security guards at hotels nearby all greet me, and the waiters at restaurants (where I usually only go with visitors) all stop to greet me as well.

The other day, standing on my balcony, I realized for the first time that the big tree growing over the wall is an avocado tree! I had been watching a bee pollinate the blossoms, and suddenly saw … avocados! Turns out, it belongs to the hotel across the street, for it is actually growing in their parking lot. But the branches that cross over that wall? The fruit of those branches is ours! At first, I found just four tiny avocados — which still have a long way to go in their growing. Avocados here are between 8 and 10 inches long, and at least four inches around, and are so very delicious. Then I realized that there were all these buds on the tree branches. THEN, a few hours later, I came out to examine the tree again, and found five more teeny-tiny new avocados bursting forth. Finally, I looked up — remember, I’m on the third floor, so the branches are at eye level — and saw hundreds of buds! Oh, my gosh, I said to my friends, we’re going to have to open a market! We’ll be rich!!!! Thank God for that bee that drew my attention to the riches of God’s grace, literally right before my eyes.

There is another tree growing in our courtyard which bears what I think is breadfruit. I’m actually not certain what the fruit is, only that is is good to eat, and better to be turned into juice. I haven’t done the latter yet, but have partaken of that blessing as well. This tree literally grows through the steps leading to the parish hall on the second floor behind the church. I didn’t realize that it, too, is a fruit tree. I will eat more of this fruit when I return.

This morning, I saw hundreds of children lining up to enter schools, which reopened this week. Not all of the schools are ready to reopen, but some have, and to see the children in their varied uniforms — every school child wears a uniform here — brings joy to all of us, for it is a sign that some normalcy is returning, and that education will continue, even if it has to happen under tents or in some cases, under the trees.

And just a little while ago, there was yet another street party right outside my door. Granted, the music is just a tad loud for me — anything that makes your heart thump is too loud for me. But it was joyful music, and brought joy to the thousands living in Place St. Pierre, even if only for a few moments.

Earlier this week, I drove from Port au Prince to Cange and then back. My triumph: I drive like a Haitian now, one hand on the steering wheel, one on the stick shift, one finger on the horn, ready to use it, at all times. Several times, I told my passengers to close their eyes — it’s easier for them. This may not sound like much of an accomplishment, but trust me, it is. To drive in Haiti is to be really bold — or to be crazy. We have three basic rules of the road: One, all other drivers are crazy. Two, lock your doors. Three, see Rule Number One. Oh, and it IS necessary to have a good horn. Weak horns on cars bring derision from all around. Good horns earn accolades. My car, which Bishop is driving right now (his was crushed when his house collapsed in the quake, and his new one is not yet here), has a decent horn. The rental car’s horn: Excellent. Not as good as the horn in a friend’s car — that’s a monster horn. But still, it was very good. And I am proud to have driven up-country. It leaves me with a feeling of panache.

There are two things that are hard for people to believe about Haiti: The first is that this devastation was, is and will continue to be, beyond description. The second is that in the midst of it, there is still joy.

Such is life in Haiti.

Blessings and peace in this Eastertide,


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Easter in Haiti: Alleluia!

Dear Beloved in Christ:

Easter in Haiti

Easter services here were incredibly powerful today. To be able to proclaim, “Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!” in a place that is still filled with death almost defies description.

Hearing the angel proclaim “He is not here” in Luke’s Gospel brought tears to my eyes, for there are so many — perhaps as many as 300,000 — who are not here with us now. At the English service, I read Bishop Duracin’s Easter message to the congregation. (In Haiti, the Bishop is the preacher in all of our parishes.) In his message, Bishop spoke of how we remember “a relative, a friend, one who was close to us, all of whom, in most cases, were denied funeral ceremonies where we could say goodbye with human dignity. Thus,” he wrote, “crossing the desert has been and still is long and extremely difficult.” Although I had read the message in advance, I still found myself almost unable to continue. I know I was not the only one thinking of friends and family, and seeing again the awful devastation which still remains with us, or the bodies that are still being found.

But Bishop Duracin also told us: “The devastating earthquake of January 12, 2010, does not stop us from singing in joy and gladness, ‘Alleluia, He is risen.’ … We can no longer continue to look for Jesus among the dead, we can no longer remain in tears because of our dead, because, if during their earthly life, they knew love, their place is in the Kingdom with the Lord to reign with Him in His eternal glory.”

His message, and that of the Gospel, reminded us that we have much to celebrate here even in the midst of death, because “God is a God of life, a life that flows from his love for humanity, a love that is embodied in his Son Jesus Christ.”

I drew strength from that message, and from the celebration of the Eucharist, my first Easter Eucharist in this country. At the fraction, I found myself so caught up in the joy of the moment that I repeated the Easter acclamation, a slip of the tongue that brought smiles to all of us. By the end of the service, the joy of the Resurrection was so powerful that I repeated that acclamation again, with great gusto, and with equal gusto, the congregation replied, nearly shouting, “The Lord is risen indeed! ALLELUIA!”

Yes, we are surrounded by death in Haiti. But we are also surrounded by new life, by the new creation that God proclaims. Which is why, especially here, we are proclaiming “Alleluia!” with all our beings.

Bishop Duracin and all of Haiti bids all of you, “Joyeuses Paques!” Happy Easter!

Your servant in Christ,


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Waiting for resurrection

Holy Saturday in Haiti:

Dear Beloved in Christ:

On this Holy Saturday, the sun has set here and technically, we can make our proclamation of the Risen Lord. Technically. But we don’t do that in Haiti. Our tradition is that we wait until Easter morning to shout with joy. So we are, like so many around the world, still waiting.

That’s what Holy Saturday is all about anyway — waiting. The women were waiting for the Sabbath to end so they could go to Jesus’ grave. All of creation was waiting to discover what God would do next.

And that’s what we’re doing here in Haiti as well. We’re waiting.

People who need medical care wait for hours to be seen. People wanting food stand in line for even longer. Those living in the Tent Cities are waiting for more information from the government, to find out where they can go next, where they might be able to find a place to live. Students are waiting for schools to reopen. My friends on the streets wait for someone to come along to buy something, so that they might have enough money to feed their children for one more day, or pay a school fee when those eventually come due.

It’s not that Haiti has come to a standstill, with all this waiting going on. There’s so much happening here, day and night, as people try to remake their lives, that it seems the country never rests. In the area where I live, up in Petion Ville, above Port au Prince, the main road right outside the church is always busy. What wakes me up at night is not the sound of trucks grinding gears as they climb up or down the mountain, but any absence of sound. That’s when I find myself waiting, trying to figure out what’s going on, why the traffic has stopped, whether something is wrong.

We held our Easter Vigil tonight at St. James the Just. Before the service, we were waiting to see if we could find a new Paschal Candle … we had been searching for many days, but so far no luck. In the end, when we had waited long enough, we got out last year’s candle, with “2009” clearly stamped on it, dusted it off and put it to good use again. While singing the Exsultet, I had to wait a few times while a man out on the street struggled to start his car, his engine grinding so loudly that I couldn’t be heard. As the darkness fell and became complete, it surely felt like the time had come to end the waiting. But because of the traditions in this place, we have to wait just a few more hours.

Haitians are patient people. They know how to wait. But I think the time has come to end all this waiting. I am as anxious to end Haiti’s waiting as I am to proclaim the Risen Lord.

Just one more night, Lord.

Then we can greet you anew, with great vigor and joy, shouting at the top of our lungs, “The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia!”

Would that Haiti’s wait for new life would be as short, and that it ends with the same joy.

Blessings and peace,


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Walking in death to life

Maundy Thursday in Haiti:

Dear Friends in Christ:

In Haiti’s epicenter, anywhere you walk, you are walking in death.

Everywhere you step in earthquake-devastated epicenter of Port au Prince and Leogane and the surrounding areas, your feet get dirty. There are few open spaces left, and what once was open is now filled with tents and tent cities. There is little sanitation. Garbage is picked up some days, but piles up most others. The rains sweep everything down the streets and sidewalks: raw sewage, mud from the crumbled buildings, the decaying remains of those who died and who have still not been found, still not been uncovered in the rubble.

If any one group of people need their feet washed, especially on Maundy Thursday, it is the Haitians, for they walk in death every single day.

But foot-washing — a part of the Christian tradition that comes from the Evangelist John’s description of the Last Supper, in which Jesus washed the feet of his disciples — is not a tradition in the Episcopal Church here. I’m not certain why it isn’t, I simply know that when I asked, “Do we wash the people’s feet here?” I was told, “No.”

I wish that were not so, because right now, Haitians need that foot-washing.

Not just because they are walking in death.

But because I think that most Haitians – those living in tents and tent cities, and those who are in their own homes – need the rest of the world to bathe them in the same love in which Jesus bathed his disciples’ feet.

The standard explanation of the foot-washing scene in John’s Gospel is that Jesus wanted to show how far he was willing to go to be a servant to his disciples, to set an example for them, so that they in turn might be servants as well.

But I have always believed that there is so much more to the story than simply example-setting. I believe that Jesus got on his knees and washed his disciples dirty, smelly, probably ugly feet — that terribly despised portion of the body that most people really don’t want to have washed in public  — I believe Jesus did this as an act of pure love. I believe Jesus took each foot and caressed it, rubbed it, washed it clean, and gently rubbed it dry out of pure love.

And if anyone needs to experience that kind of gentle love, it is the Haitians. They have suffered so much for so long, and then have been torn asunder physically, emotionally and psychologically by this earthquake. Now, the very ground on which they walk is filled with death. What would it be like, I asked the small congregation gathered for Maundy Thursday services at St. James the Just, if we were to have OUR  feet washed, and then were to go across the street to the Tent City where approximately 6,000 people are encamped, and wash THEIR feet? What would happen if we were to show to all those in such great need the same absolute, tender love that Jesus showed to his disciples?

We don’t do foot-washing in Haiti — at least, not yet. Pere David Cesar and I talked about possibly introducing the service next year.

But right now, I said, I think it’s something that Haiti desperately needs: Gentle, tender, pure love. Each of us, I said, needs to take the love of Christ that we feel — however big or small — and share it, gently and tenderly — with those who need it so much more.

When Jesus got down on his knees, I said, he did it out of love. And that very act alone changed the world.

We, too, I said, can do this. We can get on OUR knees, figuratively and literally, and in doing so change not just Haiti, but the world.

I don’t want to walk in death any more. The Haitians don’t want to walk in death any more. What they want — what they NEED, right now — is to walk in love.

What better way to show that love than to have our dirty, smelly, ugly feet washed, and then to wash the dirty, smelly, ugly feet of others?

That kind of love, that kind of willingness to lessen ourselves so that others may be loved and may find life — THAT kind of love changed the world once, and it can change the world again.

I really wanted to wash some feet tonight, and I wanted my own feet washed, in the pure, tender, gentle love of Jesus. We did so figuratively. Hopefully soon, we’ll do so literally as well.

Blessings and peace in this Holy Week,


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Silence and belief

Good Friday in Haiti:

Dear Beloved in Christ on this Good Friday in Haiti:

I have been ordained for 13 years, and for 13 years, I have read the Gospel on Good Friday. Whenever we get to the words, “and he breathed his last,” every single time, my heart catches in my throat and I always am glad for the rubric that mandates silence at this point, because I simply cannot go on. In that silence, every single time, my soul cries out, “I believe! I believe!”

Today in Haiti, I needed that silence even more. This has been a hard Lent here. We are surrounded by death, an assault on the soul; by  devastation and ruins, an assault on the eyes; by the stench of death and unclean bodies and raw sewage, an assault on the nose; by the uncertainty of the future we face, an assault on our psyches.

So many times since Jan. 12, every Haitian and everyone who loves Haiti has been tempted to crumple under the weight of this awfulness, moments when all we have wanted to do is simply curl up in a ball and pretend the earthquake never happened. There have been times when the fear and uncertainty were so overwhelming that many of us have wanted, for just a moment, to be like Peter and deny the truth that is before our eyes.

That moment of silence in the Gospel, that moment when we heard again that Jesus had breathed his last, today was filled with heartache for all those who 11 weeks ago breathed their last as well. At the open-air worship space that now serves as Holy Trinity Cathedral in Port au Prince, with the ruins of our beloved Cathedral facing us, we could not escape those deaths or the death of our old way of life. We had to face that death square on. The darkness that descended on Jerusalem 2,000 years ago seemed to descend on Haiti again, just as it did on Jan. 12. In that moment, I think, all of us had our hearts in our throats, and all of us were glad for that moment of silence, so that we could swallow hard and concentrate on the promise of the resurrection, on the promise of new life that we have in the Risen Lord.

And then, when the choir sang, “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord,” the tears formed in my eyes and my heart came back into my throat. When the choir sang, “Were you there when they nailed him to the tree,” I know that many of us thought of those who were caught in the ruins on that terrible day, and for so many days afterwards, praying to be rescued. When the choir sang, “Were you there when they laid him in the tomb,” I know that all of us thought of the hundreds of thousands who have been buried here, of the many are still entombed in the ruins. By that point, I had to stop singing, I had to swallow my heart again, I had to wipe away those tears.

This Good Friday in this place was almost overwhelming. Even though I always feel the pain of the day personally, even though I always feel deep grief, today was the most intense Good Friday I have ever experienced. It was more real, more concrete, more visible, more heart-wrenching, than ever before. I think Good Friday for me will never be the same.

With blessings and prayers,


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We are remembered

Wednesday in Holy Week in Haiti:

Dear Beloved in Christ:

On Palm Sunday at St. James the Just, during Communion at the English service, I introduced the congrgation to Taize music. “Do you know ‘Jesus, Remember Me?'” I asked. Most shook their heads no, so I sang that beautiful and haunting piece, the quotation from the thief who was crucified next to Jesus, one time through.

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom, Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

By the second time through, the congregation, many of them first-time visitors, mostly aid and relief workers, had picked up the hymn. By the third time through, as Pere David Cesar, the priest in charge, and I distributed the bread and wine, the congregation had figured out how to harmonize. They sang softly and beautifully as they recieved the body and blood of Christ, making that holy meal even holier.

Tonight, Pere David and I broke bread together again, this time at a local hotel. Pere David, who is director of the Holy Trinity Music School and the Holy Trinity Philharmonic Orchestra, is a faith-filled man who glorifies God especially through his music. He is an accomplished musician, teacher, and priest. When the earthquake struck, he was in his office, and helped lead several people to safety as the building collapsed around, over and under them.

We talked about music throughout dinner, sharing stories. Me, I don’t know much about music. I can’t read it, don’t play an instrument, and am hopeless at counting. But I love to sing, and I truly love chant. Taize is part of my prayer life, and since the quake, I’ve had one Taize piece in particular running continuously through my soul: “Oh Lord, hear my prayer, oh Lord, hear my prayer, when I call answer me. Oh Lord, hear my prayer, oh Lord, hear my prayer, come and listen to me.”

I told Pere David about that chant, and showed him my Anglican rosary, which James, a new friend at Trinity Cathedral in Miami, gave me as a gift a few weeks ago. “I sing my prayer on this rosary,” I told Pere David. “It centers me in God.”

At some point, Pere David and I talked about using Taize again at our Maundy Thursday service tomorrow evening. He instantly translated the chant into French, and we decided to introduce Taize into other services as well.

Then, as I described the Taize community to my friend, and how it is a healing place for people from all over the world – and how I hope to go there one day – we began to dream of using a form of Taize to help Haiti heal from its wounds. We dreamed of building a labyrinth, with a garden and trees and the brilliant flora of Haiti, with a small waterfall, and of teaching people healing songs and chants at this new place of which we dreamed.

Haiti needs healing. It needs rebuilding. In the new creation that already is taking place here, we dreamed, for a few hours, of how to not only renew the land but renew the people.

The people here already are devoted to and dependent on God. God is alive and well and at the center of most people’s lives, especially in these dark hours. Music is an important aspect of their lives as well. Perhaps, we thought as we broke bread and shared dreams, we could take the most important part of people’s lives – God and music and prayer – and bring them together in a new way, to help us heal even more.

One thing we do not have to dream about: Jesus does remember us in Haiti.

Blessings and peace in this holiest of weeks,


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