Jan. 19, 2010
Grieving for Haiti
By John Dear
With you, I grieve the loss of life from last week’s earthquake in Haiti. And, with you, I grieve the survivors’ suffering and the slow pace of relief. Most of all, I grieve the injustice and poverty that has plagued Haiti—and much of our world—from its early colonizers to its U.S.-backed military juntas and dictatorships.
Haiti has weighed on my mind many times before. This past October I joined President Clinton and various U.N. staff members to celebrate our friend Dr. Paul Farmer, who has given his life to help the people of Haiti (see: www.pih.org). And this fall I’m to join Food for the Poor (a leading charitable organization) on a fact-finding tour there.
I’ve been to Haiti before, in the early 1990s, just after an earthquake of another sort—the U.S.-backed coup that ousted President Aristide. Our delegation interviewed and observed and later testified before a U.N. panel about rampant poverty and human rights violations. We met at the very hotel that turned to rubble last week.
Our delegation returned home after nearly a month, and by then the people had won my heart. The Haitians, I saw at first hand, have lively spirits, tenacity, resilience. I came away understanding why Paul Farmer had given his life to them.
I thought then that Haitians were Beatitude people—poor in spirit, grieving, meek, hungering and thirsting for justice, merciful and pure in heart, peacemaking and persecuted for their struggle for justice. Theirs is the reign of God.
But now the earthquake. Out of its fury descended not just tragedy but bitter irony. Haiti was standing on the eve of a new day. Plans were far along, through the work of President Clinton and Paul Farmer, for a mammoth aid program and development projects, all of it on sound financial ground thanks to considerable corporate backing.
“This coming week was to have been a banner week for Haiti,” Jennie Block of the U.N. Special Envoy’s office, wrote me after the earthquake. “A dozen investors from Haiti were flying in, ready to make business deals. Seventy five members of the Clinton Global Initiative were meeting in Port au Prince developing all kinds of projects in education, health, industry and energy.
Those projects, of course, are now on hold.
Mine is a double identification with Haiti. I’ve seen its pain; I’ve suffered the terror of a 7.1 earthquake. It was in the Bay Area, October 17, 1989, during my theology studies. I was sitting in a massive house in Berkeley with five Jesuits studying a text on the sacraments, when the rumble began.
The floor under our feet began to shake. Then it intensified. Pictures and dishes clattered to the floor, and panic rose in my chest. The others, all Californians, sat patiently and calmly. But I decided enough was enough. And I made a break for daylight, as the floor heaved and lurched upward and, more than once, threw me off my feet.
That night, I stood in the Berkeley hills and watched the fires in nearby San Francisco. I thought then, and think now, what a waste to pound massive amounts down the rat hole of war and weapons, and on consumer goods that prove our status. The world is a tough place as it is—people everywhere trying to survive storms and quakes and floods. Why compound the pain? Why not direct the trillions of dollars to ease suffering, instead of increasing it?
The Bay earthquake shook my complacency. I realized anew the brevity and preciousness of life. And I resolved again to spend my small space of time working for a new world of nonviolence. Then after all have been fed, housed, and taught, we together can take on the job of protecting one another from natural disasters. To choose this road is a spiritual decision. It requires that we understand deeply that we are all one—all sisters and brothers, all of us mortal, all of us responsible for one another.
Now with Haiti in rubble, the evil of our wars, weapons and greed are exposed—if only we have eyes to see. The U.S. funds hundreds of thousands of troops around the world. We’ve stockpiled billions of dollars of weapons, and squirreled them away in bunkers across the globe. Death has become big business, and all the euphemisms in the world—“security,” “defense,” “bringing good things to life”—can’t conceal the fact.
Life isn’t served by erecting fortress U.S.A. Life is served when the poorest are served, when global justice is established. Life is served when we lavish on victims, not just money out of our surplus, but out of our “operating” funds, as if the victims are from our own community. As indeed our faith has long said they are.
In other words: Iraq, Afghanistan, death row, nuclear arsenals, corruption on Wall Street, the suffering of Haiti, Gaza, Darfur, Peru, Congo, Malawi, and Bangladesh—these are all connected.
We need to ask, why were the Haitians so poor? Why so many shantytowns and rickety public buildings? Why the lack of social services? As we get beyond the TV coverage and study the history, we learn that it has to do with the dictatorships, backed by the French colonizers and more recently by the U.S. The catastrophes and suffering will continue until we learn a new way of relating in the world, from Haiti to Afghanistan.
Right after the quake, several friends managed to get in, and many grassroots groups have intensified their creative work. For instance, Partners in Health (www.pih.org) and Fonkoze, an alternative bank and the largest micro-finance institution. Fonkoze offers a full range of services to Haiti’s rural poor (see: www.fonkoze.org).
As for me, I’m working to raise relief funds. I’m partnering with Catholic Relief Services (CRS), one of the leading relief organizations in the world, which has been in Haiti for 55 years and has over 300 staff there. CRS has set up a fund in my name, The Father John Dear Haiti Fund. My goal is to raise $50,000, and all of it will go immediately for the relief effort.
And so I invite you to join me. Please make a donation. It will help with the relief effort, and help publicize CRS’s work. Make whatever contribution you can—$10, $25, $100, or even $1000.
You can pay in several ways. The easiest is to go to the page for the fund on their website: http://donate.crs.org/goto/fatherjohn and pay on line with a credit card. Or you can donate by phone by calling CRS at 1-800-736-3467 (mention it’s for the Fr. John Dear Haiti Fund).
You can also send a check by mail to: “Catholic Relief Services,” P.O. Box 17090, Baltimore, Maryland 21203-7090. Checks can be made payable to “Catholic Relief Services” (and write on the memo line, “For the Father John Dear Haiti Fund”). Please feel free to invite others to join me. And thank you for whatever you can give.
Most of all, let’s continue to offer regular prayer with the suffering people of Haiti, for immediate food, water, medicine and shelter for them, for those assisting the needy, and for the longer term Haitian struggle for justice and peace. Let’s stand in solidarity with them during their suffering and work for their healing and liberation, and continue our work for justice and disarmament. May the God of peace bless the people of Haiti and us all.
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