By Tom Tracy
Port-au-Prince, Haiti — My very first involvement in the Catholic press began with both catastrophe and response and, separately, the Haitian people. It was 1992 and I happened to be in the "wrong" place at the right time when the infamous Category-Five Hurricane Andrew punched a hole the south Miami area. The excitement of being on the scene and documenting the community, charitable, military, church and state response was thrilling and inspiring.
Subsequent hurricanes in the Caribbean and Florida created similar moments.
Then there was early 1990’s Haitian refugee crisis, and again south Florida was one place for watching history play out as a deposed Haitian president appeared to the Haitian exile community at the old Miami Arena, and the now-Orlando Bishop Thomas Wenski, then a parish priest in Little Haiti in Miami, was shuttling to Guantanamo Bay to look after Haitian refugees being detained there.
So it humbling that Our Sunday Visitor phoned and asked if I could fly down to Haiti following the earthquake in the company of an expert response team from Catholic Relief Services (CRS). Actually I have been a few places here and there around the globe, but only now have I visited this place which figures so prominently in the news right now, and from time to time previously. I simply never had a big excuse or assignment to go to Haiti, and admittedly I have been a little afraid to look for reasons to go there.
Arriving by way of Santo Domingo two days after the earthquake, I started to feel a momentary sense of dread and anxiety as our CRS delegation made its way 200 miles across the island and across national borders toward the Haitian capital. Along the way we read various grim reports of the conditions there, and of lawlessness. But invariably, the camaraderie offered within our caravan of good people, with their confidence in the mission, was more powerful than fear.
Now I am in my third day here and, for the moment, a humble witness to history, coming across so many talented and motivated people coming to help from around the region and the world.
Today, we stopped at a command center for the United Nations — a communications and military compound based near the Haitian airport where all the big emergency response and food aid organizations are interacting. Military police from as far away as Rwanda mingle with aid workers and medical staff, including at a temporary hospital there.
My hope and prayer now is that I can be a good steward of this opportunity to contribute some time and energy following the earthquake, unsure at this moment how long that will be here.
Last night I was awakened in my dorm at Caritas Haiti’s Guest House by the sound of religious songs being sung in mini-tent city outside our gates. The Haitian people that I have seen here thus far are living up to their reputation (familiar to anyone who has interacted with Haitians) for patience, extreme resilience, and true spiritual grit.
Tom Tracy, based in south Florida, is on assignment in Haiti for Our Sunday Visitor.
Photo by Tom Tracy. At the United Nations' field hospital near the Port-au-Prince airport.