Supporting Father Rick at NPH Saint Damien's Hospital, Haiti
Tuesday, 24 April 2012

by Janera Soerel

Fr Rick2 Supporting Father Rick at NPH Saint Damiens Hospital, Haiti
Father Rick. He is American—from Connecticut, in his 50s, tall, fit, and very handsome, with neatly trimmed hair. Wearing khaki pants, sneakers, a snugly fitting t-shirt with a leather string tied around his neck, from which a wooden cross dangled, he was polite when we were introduced, but his eyes darted away as we shook hands. He was a busy man.

A medical doctor as well as a priest, Father Rick’s career as a humanitarian has taken him to Mexico and Honduras. He has been in Haiti for the past 25 years, working for Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos (NPH), an international Christian mission that shelters orphaned, abandoned, and other at-risk children.

The Urban Zen Integrative Therapy (UZIT) Program is supporting the efforts of Father Rick at NPH Saint Damien’s Hospital, a pediatric facility that treats its young patients without compensation. Teams of UZIT-trained integrative therapists have been traveling to Haiti to provide doctors, nurses, staff and relief workers as well as pediatric patients.

There are too many dead and dying in Haiti for Father Rick to restrict himself to St. Damien’s. Every Thursday he and his team visit the general morgue in Port-au-Prince to collect the latest nameless and abandoned bodies and grant them a decent burial in the foothills. In a typical week, they buried 50 people, other times the count is 80.

Father Rick presides over the funerals with dignity and compassion. He does not question why they died, and he gives thanks for their brief lives. How does one not lose hope, amid this staggering number of premature deaths, and the piles of bodies abandoned by families too poor to bury them? How does one keep seeing the value of each individual?

Fr Rick1 Supporting Father Rick at NPH Saint Damiens Hospital, HaitiIn one of his sermons, he reminded us that joy, hope, and a sense of justice may not be physically measurable but are all too apparent for their glaring absence in some people. It is easy to become cynical and negative, to be filled with doubt and give up. But a clear structure of virtues and principles, are guiding forces in the face of adversity and confusion.

Father Rick didn’t always know he wanted to become a priest. But, he told us, as with a marriage, you make a decision. The road inevitably becomes rocky, and if you commit to the relationship again, it transforms and opens up new possibilities. In his book “The God of Tough Places, The Lord of Burnt Men,” Father Rick tells astounding stories of living and working in Haiti.

He shared the story of a recent rice distribution crisis that had culminated in a near-riot in front of the hospital. The police got wind of the tensions and sent a message that they were making their way to the hospital to arrest the trouble-makers. Father Rick hoped they wouldn’t show up, because he had invited the people to gather at the hospital to discuss the challenges facing the rice distribution. It would hardly have been fair if they were arrested. So he prayed for help, and 10 minutes later the heavens responded. It started pouring. Haitian police do not come out when it rains, and everyone quickly dispersed.
 We joked that he has a direct line to God.

He shared the story of a recent rice distribution crisis that had culminated in a near-riot in front of the hospital. The police got wind of the tensions and sent a message that they were making their way to the hospital to arrest the trouble-makers. Father Rick hoped they wouldn’t show up, because he had invited the people to gather at the hospital to discuss the challenges facing the rice distribution. It would hardly have been fair if they were arrested. So he prayed for help, and 10 minutes later the heavens responded. It started pouring. Haitian police do not come out when it rains, and everyone quickly dispersed.

He keeps his hope strong, he said, by drawing inspiration from Haiti’s orphaned children. Of 400 children who have grown up in the orphanage system in Haiti, 70% do relatively well, trudge through life, without complaining, doing their best. He calls them the true heroes. Of the rest, 10% excel and end up giving back to the system, 10% are sad cases without the emotional or spiritual means to emerge from their rut, and 10% become pathological. This last group gives him the most headaches. But it’s for the 70%— the ones who may not have had a chance to survive without the system— that he keeps going.

Janera Soerel is a 2011 UZIT graduate who has visited NPH Saint Damiens Hospital where she and fellow UZITs provided integrative therapies to Father Rick’s community. To read more about her experience, please click HERE


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