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MASS with the WISENED at Villaj Jezi

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It was a privilege to celebrate with the ladies (and younger nuns and a few schoolchildren) yesterday at this community of older folks at Gerin, Haiti.  The Sunday Gospel was the extension of the crazy (to  our logic) claims of the Beatitudes, so who else to ‘keep it real’ than those who by age, infirmity, and/or a life of prayer ‘enjoy’ that ability to live simply while working to care for one another.  So clearly, the Company of Jesus sisters do love them so much here–they sure seem to know they are extraordinarily blessed to be in this house of Jezi.
I look like I’m preaching above, but as no doubt some of them were thinking “what is this crazy blan saying in his awful Haitian Kreyol?” . . . I could and do take comfort that the very Gospel with which I was so engaged leaves us with no conclusion other than this: by the world’s standards, so much of what we are to do and where we are to find joy are things that others might find, well, crazy!
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Carmel and Sr. Marie Lourdes are happy to be headed for breakfast . . . but Sr. Marie Lourdes couldn’t help but ask me before I left:  Where is Dean Hofman?  I don’t see him any more!  I told her he was fine, but for now, he is “grounded” from trips to Haiti by those that love him.  Sr. Marie Lourdes is the successor of Sr. Esta Joseph, C.J. as directress of St. Rose of Lima girls school in Leogane.  Some folks will remember Emil T’s regular visits to the sisters and the girls at St. Rose, holding court about this and that, including just four days before the 2010 earthquake that claimed Sr. Esta.  So Emil’s early teaching days at all-male Notre Dame brought him, in his later teaching days, to all-female St. Rose.  Figures.  He does like the attention!  And they still are asking after you, Emil.

Well, we had a great feast day here today in Haiti.  Fr. Yves Etienne and I concelebrated the 6:30AM Ste. Rose parish Mass, and since then (it is now after midnight); one of the rhythmic but plaintive Haitian Marian anthems from the post-communion reflection period has been going thru my head.  Going thru my head, over and over, ALL day LONG:

VIVA, Mama Notre Dame! . . . Mama of the Haitian people.  Live, Hope of men and women…  We complement you! (well, at least that is my translation and I am sticking with it!)

Not such a bad thing to have stuck in one’s noggin on a holyday.

Got to thinking again not just of us still not having a proper, earthquake proof house for God (or for still too many of God’s blessed people for that matter) in both Leogane and Miton . . . but also at the Cathedral (above, top of page) and at the Petit Goave parishes (pastor below) which are both dedicated to honor the reality / dogma that the humble Queen of the Universe, i.e. our role model, was assumed into Heaven.  The below photo which I found on the internet features Fr. Boniface Sena (a great man) presiding at Mass in Petit Goave, in the temporary structure…

The Church that fell in Jan 2010 was interesting because it made the site seem grand and awesome and holy (it was, and is). But without the church, now, I am wondering what it was that impressed me so. Probably the fervor of so many many prayers having been spent in that Church for so many years…it was almost like I had a childhood memory of many, many steps leading way up into a chamber of holiness (but it really was a memory from just three years ago or so!) . . . but last time there I could not even see much of an incline to the site.
The wonder of faith, and the power of collective faith to make real here on earth in some way a hint of what is beyond our current grasp … that long march up to who we were made to become … in that mysterious place after which we long: GOD that is the love that manifested in the care of those who built that beautiful house called NOTRE DAME de la ASSUMPTION, in fact transforming a building into a PLACE, and a home for God, and for others to feel warm, and safe, and holy themselves! Viv, Notre Dame.

Another wonderful ceremony as we restarted* the tradition of an Easter Vigil at Ste. Rose de Lima in Leogane, Haiti. There were over 30 baptisms, and we all have high hopes and fond prayers for these newest Christians . . . two of whom are pictured here. Despite still not having a church since the January 2010 earthquake, and despite the occasional interruption of a Ra-Ra band’s music wafting into the outdoor Mass, it was a grand celebration with both serious and prayerful moments, moments of joy, and some comical moments as well. Happy Easter season one and all!

*Last year’s vigil Mass had to be cancelled because the the Ra-Ra celebrations (mostly the commercial ones!) were just too loud to compete with — even tho there were about 500 people in church as opposed to about five folks at the nearest, noisy Ra-Ra stand.  The moral of the story:  You often reap what you sow (Ra-Ra started as a copy-cat celebration by the one-time slaves in Haiti of the revelry they saw among their French overlords when those latter folks were taking a traditional Sunday break from Catholic Church-enforced 40 days and nights of Lenten sacrifices)!

Fr. Joseph Walter, C.S.C., Ph.D.

Before leaving again for Haiti, I stopped by the Loyola Medical Center ICU room of Fr. Joe Walter, whom I had enjoyed dinner with on Tuesday last, but who had been taken ill with an aortic aneurysm on Thursday evening. Fr. Joe is really struggling, and knowing how he has savored his independance over the years, it was really difficult to see him so utterly dependant on so many machines and drugs. I had the chance to pray that God send the Holy Spirit with Jesus’ healing force for Fr. Walter’s body, mind, and spirit.

I ask you also to pray for Fr. Joe at this time, knowing especially that many of our physician-visitors in Haiti who are ND alums probabaly remember most and count as signficant their experiences and encounters with Fr. Joe and Emil T. Hofman alike, two giants of Chemistry and caring about students at Notre Dame.

I also came to learn over the years in Holy Cross that despite his reputation for the occaisionally stern demenor with students (espeically those that needed to move from premed to the College of Business), Joe was a very kind person with a wicked sense of humor and a great sense of dedication to prayer and to the Blessed Sacrament.

My fondest moment with Joe was my own Ph.D. graduation in 1994; a faculty member was required to “hood” the newly minted Ph.D. as they both had the chance (in those days) to make their way across the stage. But neither Profs. Craig or Grimstad (my two faculty advisors) were going to be present at the graduation….

Because my family wanted to come, I was in need of a substitute “mentor.” Although Fr. Joe wasn’t planning on going either . . . in the interest of helping me out, he put on his University of Pittsburg doctoral robes and his C.S.C. habit biretta, and came and “did the honors.”

Turns out he got a big kick out of having the famous Dr. George Craig’s name announced over the P.A. as he (in place of Dr. Craig) mounted the stage and “hooded” me.

Seems he throughly enjoyed “impersonating” the world-renowned medical entomologist that day (Craig, being heavy, looked very different than the tall Joe Walter), and I enjoyed having one of my brothers in Holy Cross go thru an important ritual marking some years’ worth of hard work finally completed.

May God bless Fr. Joe!

When I started this Blog, I had the notion that, despite my inclinations and personal bent, I needed to promote the biomedical and research work that Notre Dame and the Holy Cross Congregation are involved with in Haiti. I indicated in that 1st entry that this was not an act of promotion, necessarily, but an attitude that was required even from an appropriate defensive posture (hence the name of the blog–the BLOG; a concept itself BTW which just still seems, well, conceited, to me anyway!)

I posited that in fact if I didn’t work harder to promote and communicate what we are doing, well, that we could lack for partners and collaborators . . . if only because people wouldn’t know the story, the opportunities, or what good we have done.

Well, turns out I was more right than I was willing to acknowledge over the intervening year-plus.

And yet, I still trip over that penchant that some find so natural: Self-promotion. So here, today, find another pledge to be a more active blogger, in hopes that those readers who find what we are doing to be worthy will pass the word along, and join the cause!  That part of what we priests do is called evangelization.  So, I need to acknowlege, internally and spiritually, that defensive evangelization is okay and even NECESSARY!

I have been honored to know many, many “Mother Teresa of Calcutta”-type folks in my life . . . a number of folks who just find the joy (God’s SPECIAL joy), the joy of love incarnate in serving others. The recently departed Sr. Jean Lenz, OSF, of Joliet and Notre Dame was a brilliant example of this.  But, well, let’s be honest, turns out that we all know Mother Teresa’s name and her works because Mother Teresa was a bit of a self-promoter, if only because she knew she needed resources to build and then maintain her new community and their wonderful, wonderful works!

So, while I have known many Saints (I suspect) who have selflessly and without fanfare done their life’s work, and achieved little or no acclaim, and little external support for their work……. and I have admired them……. and they are role models for sure……. and, they are (or were) on track for their eternal reward, and that’s what really matters…….

But for some of us folks struggling to be saints (which is the vocation of all of us), the goals can be really quite ambitious. Using science and clever, allied approaches to help folks better their quality of life by removing some of the root causes of deepest, enslaving poverty requires resources.  Lots of resources!  But the changes have good potential to be permanent . . . or in today’s lexicon, “sustainable!”

So, I have to learn (he says again!) to be more of a self-promoter. So I hope you will see more frequent entries here in the months ahead. And I hope you will be moved to work with me, and our UND / CSC team and partners to finish what we have started!

What really “kicked me in the arse” on this topic was a meeting last week with the newish (~four months in office) director of health for the U.S. Government mission in Haiti. She proved to be a delightful woman, smart and engaged. And open to working together. Well, when our group (Jean-Marc Brissau, Sean Farrell and myself) sat down with her and we mentioned that we worked on elephantiasis and NTDs (Neglected Tropical Diseases), she immediately recognized the topic and the project in Haiti. She indicated the list of partners that she knew to be involved in the work:

1. USAID (of course, her own organization!),

2. CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention),

3. IMA World Health and

4. RTI (Research Triangle International), as well as

5. the Haitian government’s Ministry of Health (MSPP), and

6. Ministry of Education.

That was her list. CDC was eliminating filariasis and controling NTDs in the capital region, and IMA World Health was doing this work in the rest of the country.

Notre Dame didn’t make the top six.

I said to myself: “Woops!!” . . . And I then indicated my regret that unfortunately it was unfair, perhaps mostly to our donors more than anyone else, that we would be left off the list of major partners.

Well, at least we were in good company with the likes of our longtime partner: the Reference Center for Filariasis at Holy Cross Hospital in Leogane, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Abbott Labs, the InterAmerican Development Bank, Pepsi, Partners in Health, GlaxoSmithKline, and the U.N. agencies including the Pan American / World Health Organization and UNICEF…. and OTHERS (esp. a myriad of generous donors)!!!

With the help of the Gates Foundation, we (UND) were the original funders of both the aforementioned Ministry of Health and IMA World Health’s 1st forays into this work in Haiti.

For the work of attaining full, nationwide coverage with the drugs needed to control the “geohelminth” worms and eliminate filariasis, Notre Dame provided half the funding and much of the labor to collaborate with the Ministrys of Heath and Education to very successfully complete the capital-area Mass Drug Administration (MDA) last month!

And we’ve been involved as a major partner since before the beginning, in 1997, when the World Health Assembly and others 1st called for eliminating filariasis (aka elephantiasis), and a program to treat a billion for filariasis and the major gut worm parasites. This campaign, borne out of scientific advances and drug donations (such as those from GlaxoSmithKline for Haiti), has relied on Notre Dame as one of the leading partners, and we hope, will continue to do so.

But it looks like the other partners are better at promoting their work than we are. So here is a pledge, again, to renew and refresh news and updates from our work in Haiti on a regular basis.

Please continue to read, and to spread the word, and to offer more comments and support and even challenges as you see fit! Let’s keep the discussion going and let’s have it reach farther afield (than it obviously has heretofore).

God bless!

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