Without compassion there is no cure
«The art of Christian life is in accepting – and being able to live simultaneously – a great sadness and a great joy: we can absorb the suffering of our brothers who have no defense, we can pay this sharing feeling a burning pain, and, at the same time we can rejoice: for the demonstrations of humanity that we find along the way, for the happy-ending stories, for the experience that metabolizes and transforms the suffering assimilated into the energy necessary to give the best of themselves, to give a contribution trying to change things. Having worked in a hospital for many years I have had a daily contact with suffering and death: I have seen harrowing scenes, but also wonderful gestures of regenerating heroism that give hope. Trying to avoid sadness or pain is just an illusion and a failure, as it can be easily seen from frequent and destructive behaviors like the use of drug».
Father Rick Frechette, a Passionist priest who has been on the front line for more than thirty years (since 1979), is also the American doctor who guides N.P.H. and its subsidiary Foundation St Luc. On the occasion of the debut in New York of “Voices of Haiti” he wanted to be close to his children. It is a rare and precious circumstance to enjoy his company, to make a first assessment of the ABF and St. Luc music project and also for the reflections that conversations with Father Rick can arouse and for the spiritual enrichment they produce.
A special debut
When the US adventure of the ‘Voices of Haiti’ closes, the future of our young choristers will open. An experience the one they have lived, that requires the necessary slowness to be absorbed and understood, to be used at its best, in these hearts enthusiast and probably confused by so many stimuli. These children are returning to their families bearing in their eyes a world of music and affection, and substantially, a new and different world that has dramatically increased their human baggage. It will be the task of their educators of St. Luc e ABF to take them, and lead them by the hand, through a path of growth, in order to better capitalize what they have lived.
Father Rick is optimistic «I am sure that this has been a very positive experience for the kids, even though – both ‘on site’ and once they will be back in Haiti – they will have to be always ‘guided’. Different ways of life and development are not for them a totally new reality, through television children are, anyway, exposed to scenarios different from theirs. I think on the contrary that the hardest obstacle is separation. In the United States they have shared a very intense moment together with Andrea, the trainers, the volunteers…They have made new friends they have felt strong emotions, like, for instance, the sweet experience of being appreciated. The detachment, at least, momentarily, will surely cause suffering and at the same time will make them grow».
«Traveling opens up new horizons: this is valid for everybody and for our choristers too, who it is as if they had received a university education concentrated in a handful of days. All the differences they have seen will have surely provoked in them reflections and comparisons. They will bring back home the example of welcoming, of what it means to be well received, despite not understanding the language. This baggage will integrate with their lives, it will achieve a concrete meaning, will trigger ideas and dreams, it will be useful to find the courage necessary to start from where they are and with what they have to pursue new visions of a possible future. This is the real challenge.
I believe that on their return “Voices of Haiti” will find many people interested in listening to their stories, see their photos to increase their personal hope of travelling knowing, changing. Naturally not all grab an opportunity in the same way; some people will wish to be able to escape, denying, that way, their own country. That is why I always emphasize that such an experience should be always well guided. And that is what we are trying to do, together.
Thirty years ago when I moved to Haiti, the gap between the life on the island and in the nearby United States was sensational and unbridgeable. At that time I evaluated equally terrible and condemnable poverty in Haiti and the richness in the country I was from; I had to fight, inside me, a strong sense of rebellion. Then I understood that prosperity in itself was not something totally evil, and that those two seemingly distant worlds could meet and get out both enriched of values, of dignity, of inner beauty… Look at these children singing together, they are conveying joy, hope, and love. It is extraordinary to touch firsthand the value of unknown and marginalized lives, a perception that makes us instantly understand that we are, all, one thing, one family».
«Beyond words»: the encounter with Andrea
«Andrea listens, far beyond words. In fact we did not speak much but that little was sufficient for both, to understand our feelings, our projects, our mission. His sensitivity has developed well beyond usual….I remember that he told me how the night following the earthquake, he would perceive in his heart, but not only, the cries of the people, victims of that terrible fate.
Taking advantage of having Father Rick by our side, in the course of a dinner we asked him to tell us the circumstance of his first meeting with Andrea Bocelli. « Some mutual friends had told him about Haiti, arousing in him the curiosity to know about the things we carry on here on the island. He then decided to donate a concert in the favor of the Rava Foundation that in Italy represents the organization N.P.H. – Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos.
On the occasion of the charity event that took place in Ancona, I had the possibility to meet him. After a short time he created his own Foundation and through it he continued to help, to stay close to the island and to its many problems.
Some of his gestures, private and discreet, have remained inside my heart, and above all give a measure of his sensitivity. For instance, on Christmas day, in 2009, knowing that my mother – a great fan of his – was seriously ill, he phoned her and talked to her, making her a great gift
In those days I was next to her after a lifetime away from home, I was back to stay with her, to help her die as a priest and as a doctor, to control pain but also to seize the unique opportunity to talk together of many things.
The earthquake that has made many victims, has personally subtracted me this last chance, it has robbed me of the last opportunity I had to be with my mom. After following on TV the tragedy that was taking place she told me: ‘You have to go, I am a disaster, but you have to go, because here you can’t do anything while there you can save many lives’. Torn and troubled in faith I left, but it was not possible to reach Haiti: the airport was out of use and I was redirected to the neighboring Dominican Republic. The Bocelli family came to know of the emergency, and instantly they moved heaven and earth, to the point of taking me to Port au Prince on board the presidential helicopter. These are Andrea and Veronica».
Make a difference in the story of the others
Take care of people and make this way a difference in the story of the others: the world is divided among those who nourish this momentum and stand facing the others, (not over, nor under, but in front of them ) to understand how and what is possible to do for them, and those who don’t. This is the sense of what Father Rick said in the homily of Sunday September 18th at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament” Upper West Side of Manhattan. Sunday Service for the occasion hosted the Haitian choir, the entire ABF and St Luc delegation, in addition, of course, to Andrea and Veronica.
Drawing on the inexhaustible source of the Gospel Father Rick remarked how those who do well little things, will do well also the big ones…He first mentioned his own experience as a pastor and a doctor, telling about how many people of good will – and among them also Andrea and Veronica – have taken to heart the future of the island …and out of small things have done bigger and bigger ones. As big as the limelight of the United Nations, of the Lincoln Center, of the Radio City Music Hall, of ‘Cipriani’, of the ‘Clinton Global Initiative’. Then he mentioned one of the thousand cases of real life, telling of a Haitian family in distress because of serious health and poverty problems, and how the lives of their members had dramatically changed, just because there had been someone who had taken care of them, focusing first on how, and then by acting immediately.
Even the children of the choir come from fragile and complex situations. From the slums of Port au Prince to the exclusive Gala events in Manhattan, perhaps in the presence of royalty, it seems an immense journey, an impossible connection. Conversely a virtuous relation is not only possible but desirable, and it can make the difference in the lives of many children. Because where there is a will, (to care), there is a way.
The concreteness of Gospel
«Also for us priests, the moment of the homily is like a medicine, because talking you also listen, because also for the religious applies the motto that reads: teaching you will learn». Deeply struck by Father Rick’s preaching, we have had the opportunity to deepen the topic in a less formal context. Once taken off his cassock, our conversation partner underlines the reality and the practicality of the Gospel. Quoting a parable, he remarks a crucial and delicate concept: actions are more powerful than intentions, to do something good ‘heartlessly’ (to make things easier), is always very much worthy in the eyes of the sky.
«It happens that, early in the morning, outside the Hospital chapel, I feel inside me the refusal to enter once more, once more in front of innocent corpses. I do not want, I can hear – loud and clear – my rebellion, but I will do it all the same, with all my might. I make an effort with the élan I can manage to have. It is not a matter of hypocrisy; in fact it is a great consolation: to do, (to do good) has its own objective value, beyond the presence of a will and of awareness. I would say, instead, that it is doing good that gradually roots in us, over time, that awareness that can therefore appear later…
I think of what is narrated in the film ‘Schindler’s List’: in the beginning the main character Oskar helps the Jews, he does it, but with certain lightness and even for his personal advantage. Then gradually passion comes to open the eyes of this man, who in the end lives with remorse for not having done enough. It is the same existential parable of many saints, who end life in sadness, if not in despair, because they finally come to understand how little they have done, if compared to what they could have done.
In conclusion take care of the others is the right choice, always beyond intentions (that good itself feeds and strengthens). If tomorrow, we all began to think of the others’ needs the world would change instantly. We are human beings, it is not necessary to be saints to offer our own contribution. The key is choosing to act without waiting (and without waiting for inspiration). The essential thing is to start from what we are, from here, now».
Giorgio De Martino