For those in ministry on the front lines of the missions, life can be chaotic and dangerous. Nothing illustrates this more than the messages we have been receiving lately from our friends at Hands Together in Haiti.
Located in Cite Soleil, a large slum in Haiti's capital city of Port-au-Prince, the daily work of Hands Together has become riskier as the area descends into deeper gang violence. Already at a high level since the assassination of the country's president, Jovenel MoÏse, a year ago, the gang warfare has erupted into a fevered pitch; since July 8, over 200 people have been killed. The United Nations reports that over half of them had no ties to the gangs.
The near constant shooting between rival gangs has caused thousands of residents to flee the area. Some adults, unable to leave themselves, dressed their children in school uniforms to convince gang leaders that the students were on their way to school, when in fact they were escaping to another part of the city. Doug Campbell of Hands Together tells us that many more people remain trapped there, living "as starving prisoners."
Doug and his Hands Together co-founder, Father Tom Hagan, OSFS, report that one of their high schools has been commandeered and used as a strategic defense post by a gang; there are shooters at the windows and on the roof. After over thirty years of promoting the Catholic faith and human development in this rough area, to see what has been viewed as a bastion of educational success become a haven for killers is heartbreaking for the two men and their staff of locals.
Hands Together regularly provides food and medical care to over 3,000 elderly people. These services had been suspended in light of the turmoil and are now resuming as best they can. According to Doug, the older people are, "hungry, tired, and sick." Ironically, as they worked to re-open their health clinic, word came that one of their health care workers had been shot and killed.
Last week, they restarted delivery of food and water, despite being shot at. One of their drivers, a young man named Anos, was killed.
Over 5,000 school children are praying to return to the school campuses that Hands Together runs in Cite Soleil. They need to do so without fear of bullets flying.
And so, the wait continues.
Father Tom and Doug are the first to say that they cannot imagine this continuing. They say, "We pray for an end to this madness."
Please join them. Pray for Haiti and for peace.
- Maureen Crowley Heil is Director of Programs and Development for the Pontifical Mission Societies, Boston.