Reflection on the earthquake - Fr. Tom Hagan

This past week has been terrifying. I have lived through all the violence in Cite Soleil over the past years being shot at and having guns held to my head, seeing people close to me shot, but nothing can compare to this horror. Doug Campbell, who has been with me for over 20 yrs , had just arrived. We were to meet with the archbishop the next morning about the situation in Cite Soleil. Doug and I were sitting down talking when the quake began. I tried to get under a table which was only a few feet away but the floor was moving in the opposite direction. I felt totally disoriented and fortunately one of the young Haitians ran back into the house and grabbed me and Doug. It was unusually dark and I could hear screaming but also singing which seemed weird to me but I was told that the people were praying.

I looked up at the rubble that was our house for volunteers, seminarians and street kids. I was bleeding from the head and there was a terrific pain in my back. Doug ran back into the rubble to try and pull people out but then we heard cries that the gas was leaking and that there would be an explosion. One of the street kids, Makenson, who was shot and is now blind and whom I found two years ago literally in the street, was crying out to me beneath all the rocks and debris but we could not get to him. It was then that two ex gang members from Cite Solei ran up to me and carried me to Mother Theresa's nuns. When I entered their compound they were already treating the wounded and they bandaged me up and I hobbled back to my place.

Throughout the night we held vigil and slowly we were able to get everyone out except two of the 21 seminarians that were living with me in the house. I remember vividly that night seeing people who were burned badly by the electric wires that had fallen everywhere.

Sisters caring for sick moments after the quake

The next night we were all huddled outside when we would experience a very large after shock and was very frightening and then on the same night at about midnight we began to hear screaming and people shouted  that a tidal wave was coming. We all started running for our lives, and for the next hour I along with thousands of people moved to higher ground. We did not know what to believe.

I am ashamed to say that I am still frightened but now I am also feeling overwhelmed. When I go through Cite Soleil now I see the eight schools that we built (schools that were totally free and the only free schools like that in the country with more than 9,000 kids) I walk pass what was once our clinic that took care of 20,000 -- again the only totally free clinic in the area. I see the houses that we built for the people (150) and the elderly projects for over 800 elderly. I look at the large kitchen area where people prepared hot meals each day for over 10,000 and all of it is gone. There is now the problem of the collapsed prison and the over 4500 men that are roaming the streets. They all escaped and there is a side of me that is happy that they did. Many of them should never have been there. I would visit the prison every week and there were as many as 6oo in one holding cell and many of them had never even been in front of a judge.

I just came from offering four Masses. Each time I would finish, a crowd would come up and ask for Mass. This is a real comfort to me and more than ever I realize that, I, we, can't survive if we do not simply put everything into God's hands. I got to work hard to practice this.

I am proud of and love our church. The people here lost a very holy man and a very good bishop especially one who was supportive of me in Cite Solei. He would become a good friend and I will miss him greatly. But, the Church will survive. It is a time like this that I find myself very proud of my Church. Everywhere you go, you will see the Church reaching out now and helping the people. The Missionaries of Charity ( Mother Theresa's nuns are just amazing). The people here have a great faith.

When I go to Cite Solei now as I do every day I see few tears. They have an amazing resiliency. Maybe it is because they have few material possessions and apparently their happiness does not depend upon possessions. The sight of a sunset means more to them that their possessions. What makes me most proud of my Church is that the message we give the people is that they have enormous worth in the eyes of God and that they are infinitely loved and that this terrible

Disaster is in no way a punishment from God. I recently said this once in a sermon and the people all stood up and began clapping and cheering. I had to ask the altar server why they were clapping( I thought that I said something wrong in Creole because my Creole is not good) and he said. Father, no one ever tells them that they have worth.

But I realize too that the longer I am here the less I know. I really could not speak with much authority about what will happen with the government or even what would be the best way to help the people in the face of this disaster. I also struggle a great deal even being here. I feel strongly that we can do a great deal of harm with the best intentions when we begin to be the benefactor.

Even with all this aid coming in, we must go slowly and every step of the way we must include the Haitians in the decision making.

During these very difficult days I find myself really loving these people. These are the same people who endured the slave ships, a horrible system of slavery and would be the ones who would eventually defeat Napoleon. They would continue to suffer greatly but they have a strength that is remarkable. I am humbled by them and privileged to be with them.

To all of you out there who I know and love, pleas pray for me. Take care!

Tom Hagan,osfs