At our recent 200th Anniversary Celebration, many special friends of The Pontifical Mission Societies of Boston were present. Some were regular benefactors; others were missionaries who partner with us to help bring the mission message to life here in the Archdiocese of Boston.
Two stood out, and not just because they arrived late for Mass! As they slipped into the back of the chapel, someone whispered to them, "You're late!" To which Father Tom Hagan, OSFS, smiled and replied, "We were at a Tupperware party!"
Such is the sense of humor of a man who lives in the largest slum in the Western Hemisphere and spends his days dodging bullets sprayed indiscriminately by gang members who control about 80 percent of the capital city of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Father Tom and Doug Campbell, co-founders of a mission organization called Hands Together run free schools, health clinics, and programs for the elderly. The meal they provide, in partnership with the World Food Program, are usually the only food the people will get in a day.
Life in the slum of Cité Soleil has never been easy; when I was there years ago, the mission compound had armed guards, but we walked fairly freely. Now, Doug and Father Tom risk their lives just to step outside. In our communications, they describe the shootings, the food shortages, and the lack of water and electricity they work to overcome, and the peace they try to broker. They've told me stories of driving their old truck with a white flag tied to it as a sign of neutrality.
Nothing prepared me, though, to walk into my kitchen last week as my husband watched the national news. He turned to me and exclaimed, "Honey! It's Haiti!"
What I saw on the television was hell.
Bodies lay shot in the street, tires and trash burned, gang members holding automatic weapons walked with impunity. The reporter spoke of the isolation from services like garbage pickup or water delivery. A woman showed the cameraman multiple bullet holes in her front door. More civilians have been killed in Haiti in 2023 than in Ukraine.
The only beacon of hope the reporter could find were school children, dressed in Hands Together green, eating their daily meal of rice and beans, with spoons impossibly big for their little hands and mouths. The schoolroom is their one haven of normalcy amid the violence.
Painted on the bullet-marked classroom wall was a cross and the words "Viv Jezi" -- "Long Live Jesus." Hands Together is not just bringing food to these children, they are bringing the love of God.
For the love of God, help them.
- Maureen Crowley Heil is Director of Programs and Development for the Pontifical Mission Societies, Boston.