Becca Olek continues her account of missions in Haiti…
It’s 6:50 in the morning. We’re on the way to mass with the Missionaries of Charity – and right now, spiritual preparation has never seemed so necessary. After mass we are heading to the house of the dying.
Fifteen people crammed in the sisters’ jeep… and I thought eleven was bad. Now is when the Haitian humor comes out, because almost all of the workers are laughing at me — flattened against the back window.
Dignity. This is the first thing I notice when I arrive at St. Philip’s. I first enter the women’s ward. They are all dressed the same: blue shirts with red checkered dresses. Hair done. Nails cut and trimmed. Some lay listlessly on their beds. Some sit up and stare at me as I enter. Their eyes are expectant.
I do what I can for them. Rub their shoulders. Hold their hands. Listen to them even though I do not understand. I call them beautiful. I tell them God loves them – anything to make them smile.
After a while I head downstairs to the men’s ward. At the very entrance I see three of my fellow missionaries kneeling around the bed of a young man. A boy really – only fifteen years old. As I kneel down they whisper to me that he is in his last hours. He is dying of AIDS. He has no family; he brought himself to the gate of St. Philips. Around him are other AIDS patients, friends who used to play with him in the streets when they were younger. They are crying and praying the rosary in Creole. The mood is very different from the women’s word, where we had the women singing and dancing with us. I can’t help but think that all the men are projecting themselves onto this young boy’s bed. For many of them death is not far off either.
I’m not sure how long I kneel, holding his hand, singing to him, praying the rosary for him. He is mostly unresponsive, except for one moment when he turns his head and looks directly in my eyes. I squeeze his hand… I am here.
I learn from the sister who has come to check his vital signs that his name is Emmanuel – God with us. And I realize that God is indeed here, in this ward with all of us. He sees and is not unmoved by the prayers rising up to him on Emmanuel’s behalf. He hears and knows, cares about and loves each person here. He is waiting even now to welcome Emmanuel into his presence.
As I stand to leave I wipe tears from my eyes and smile. Yes, God is here with us. Here in Haiti and with all people throughout the world.