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From Why to How to Whom in Haiti

January 28, 2010

From Why to How to Whom in Haiti

Follow me from "Why?" to "How" to "Whom?"

Let's start with why?

This is at times the cry of humanity these two weeks following the savage earthquake in our beloved neighbor, Haiti.

Why, O Lord? This nation already in anguish, with decent, good, beautiful, struggling people, now has its fragility reduced to near futility?

Why, O Lord? Why does evil happen to good people? How can we persevere in our belief that You are an all-loving, providential God, with special solicitude for the poor and oppressed, when we see babies crushed in rubble, emaciated people yearning for food, folks who usually were proud to call a shack home now sleeping in dirt roads?

Abraham asked it; Moses wondered it; Isaiah repeated it.

Your archbishop asked it at times last weekend when I accepted the invitation from the papal nuncio and brother bishops in the "land of whys" to come visit our brave Catholic Relief Services workers, see some of the devastation firsthand, visit the sick and homeless, and pray with and for them as they buried the beloved archbishop of Port-au-Prince, Joseph Serge Miot, in front of the shambles of the Cathedral of the Assumption. As I listened to the wailing of mothers over the collapsed neo-natal unit at St. Francis de Sales Hospital, as I held the hand of a boy who had lost his parents and his leg, as I walked the puddles of the refugee village spilling over with 80,000 displaced people, I asked it over and over.

I suppose the search for a reply to the why? will never be over. Lord knows I hardly had to visit beleaguered Haiti to find a reason to ask it. Every time I hold a child with a brain tumor or anoint a wounded firefighter, embrace the widow of a policeman killed in the line of duty or cry with the parents of a college student who took her life, I ask why?

Last weekend in Haiti, though, my "why?" morphed. It did not take me long to quit whining why? and start asking how? How can we help?

From unloading boxes of critically needed antibiotics from John Stollenwerk's plane loaned to us to get to Haiti, to offering a ride to a couple of surgeons from Maryland who had dropped everything to come; from an imbraccio to brother priests and bishops as we gathered around the altar to celebrate the Mass of Christian Burial of the archbishop, to whispering "we love you and we pray with you" in clumsy Creole to grimacing victims in "have-to-do" tents and makeshift operating rooms at barely standing St. Francis de Sales Hospital; from words of encouragement to our fatigued and drained CRS workers as they set out with more supplies to distribution areas, to a quick sign-of-the-cross on a hill overlooking a refugee camp for 80,000 homeless Haitians on a former golf course at Petionville—I quit wondering why? and started asking "how can I help" to courageous and generous people who had not the luxury to wonder why? because they were so absorbed in helping people whose baby, leg, eye or very life depended on them.

Then the how? became a "to whom?" as I stood before the shell of Assumption Cathedral and beheld the only thing that still seemed sturdy: rising from the dunes of rock was the cross!

And on the cross was Jesus, the ultimate "to Whom?," the One who Himself cried a cosmic why? on another mound of rock called Calvary on an afternoon strangely called "good" as the earth also shuddered.

I heard why? asked in Creole, French, English, Spanish, German, Italian and Dutch, and knew God understood all those languages.

But I also acknowledged that the dialect God most comprehended came not from the lips but from a heart broken and eyes crying, because God hears tears.

He became one of us in Jesus, and in this "to whom?" we have a God who Himself cries, whose Sacred Heart is broken with sadness.

So, for a while, anyway, I've quit asking why?, because I'm too preoccupied still wondering how can I help? And pretty soon I find myself fatigued, frustrated; then gradually filled with solace, hope, light and life, as I begin to whisper "to whom shall we go?" for the way, the truth, and the life?

And I recall the One on the cross rising out of the ruins of that church in Port-au-Prince. He asked the "why?"; He gives us the grace of "how?" to help; He is the "to whom?" we go.