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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Amazing profile of priest in Haiti

Seven weeks after an earthquake devastated Haiti, news about the Caribbean country and its inhabitants has moved off the front page, but the suffering and painful recovery process continue.

The Weekly Standard's Matt Labash brings the devastation back to the forefront in a long profile of Father Rick Frechette in the magazine's March 1 issue. Father Frechette runs the country's only free pediatric hospital and an orphanage. He also goes to the Port-au-Prince morgue every Thursday — since long before the quake — to bury the unclaimed dead, living out one of the seven corporal works of mercy of the Catholic Church.

Labash's story is very lengthy, and is accompanied by a slide show with many stunning — and sometimes quite disturbing — photographs. But it's worth reading every words of this profile of an amazing man of God, doing good works in a nearly impossible situation:

As we near Frechette’s graveyard, the rumors prove true. There’s a stack of half-plowed earth, atop which lie 30 or so naked bodies, as if a bulldozer driver started to bury them, went on a smoke break, then forgot to come back. Arms and legs jut from the half-dug earth, like some sort of Goya-esque horror, while the bodies on top of the pile are so sun-baked, their skin looks like plum pits. The maggots are feasting.

For a while, we wordlessly survey the disgrace. Then Father Rick looks up to the burning hills. “Just like hell. Isn’t it?” he says. “It always amazes me how nature aligns.” The state has been doing mass burials here since the earthquake. But even before, Frechette explains, “This whole area was known as the place of the dead. For 40 years, since the time of Papa Doc, it’s the place where they dumped the dead. It’s notorious for executions, for emptying the prisons out by bringing them all here, digging a hole, having them stand at the edge, plugging them in the head, then letting them fall right into the grave. We use the same areas to bury the dead in the right way.”

A little ways down the road, sweat-drenched men with pick-axes and shovels stand in huge holes, readying them for tomorrow’s burial. Cows graze in a field of white wooden crosses. Frechette’s had to stop using them, however, since people would steal the crosses to cook with. He’s now switched to smaller crosses made of fish-tins, hiring crossmakers from Cité Soleil. Though even that is getting too expensive with all the newly dead.

Our motorcyclists nervously call for us to leave, before the flames jump the road, and we have to ride out through a tunnel of fire. On the way back up the hill, I step in a sinkhole on a grave, and nearly go down. Father Rick laughs. He says it’s seven years bad luck to step on the dead, seven years good luck to bury them. “I could have a square-dance here,” he says, “and mathematically, I’d still be ahead of the game.”


Click HERE to read the story. h/t to the Deacon's Bench.

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