Thursday, May 28, 2009
Father Gerry Jean-Juste 1946-2009
Here is what I remember about Father Gerry Jean Juste:
Seeing him say Mass at his beloved St. Clare’s in Port-au-Prince. During his homily he said, “The first community of Christians were not in need because they shared. We don’t share. We say we are Christians, but we are hypocrites. We are only 600 miles from the U.S. and we are so poor. We are part of the Americas—a continent of Christians, but we don’t act like it.”
He brought a young girl up on the alter who had been severely burned when a propane tank exploded. She was covered in silvadene cream, and Father explained that her family had spent all their money on her medical care. He asked the people of his parish for donations for her family and the people gave. After Mass, Father, who was clearly exhausted, took the time to listen to each person waiting for him with their problems and concerns. When we remarked on his stamina he said, “As long as I have time to pray, and especially to say Mass, I am fine.”
Seeing him in prison in 2005, where he spent months on trumped up charges, designed to ensure that he was not free during Haiti’s presidential elections. My husband John Carroll, a physician, examined him and realized that Father’s swollen neck indicated that something was likely seriously wrong. “We will call it my freedom neck,” Father joked as we planned with others how to petition for his release to receive medical treatment. Despite his unjust imprisonment and his poor health, Father Gerry was amazingly cheerful for himself but very sad about what was going on in Haiti. “Peace and development,” he said. “These are the two things Haiti needs.” At the end of the visit we all held hands and he prayed for each one of us. As we left, we asked Father if there was anything we could do for him. He had heard earlier that we had been able to secure more medical care for the little girl who was burned in the propane explosion. “You already have,” he said.
Sometime when you meet a great person, you can be a little disappointed. Maybe they act pompously or even unkindly. Maybe they are too big to do certain jobs. Maybe they don’t live like they talk. Father Gerry Jean-Juste was the real deal. He spent his life living the Gospel and challenging others to do so also, trying to help those who most needed it. This extended to his preaching, his organizing, and the way he treated each person. And in all his labors and hardships, he exuded joy.
Haiti needs heroes like Father Gerry Jean-Juste. This world needs them. It’s a huge loss that he is no longer with us. As my husband said, “He’s the guy who would do the most for Haiti, and he’s the one who was exiled for 18 years, he’s the one who was in and out of jail, he’s the one who was prohibited from saying Mass by the Church, he’s the one who gets cancer, and he’s the one who dies at age 62.”
Sometimes it can seem like goodness is snake bit. But I feel confident that isn’t the lesson that Father Gerry Jean-Juste would want us to draw from his life. No, the lesson that he would want us to learn is that love can win on this earth. We just need to follow his example.