My husband John Carroll and I are asked to give presentations on Haiti and the work that we do with our organization, Haitian Hearts. Haitian Hearts brings children and young adults from Haiti to the United States for heart surgery and also supports general medical care in Haiti. During the question and answer period after the presentation, we sometimes are asked, “Do they know about birth control?
I confess to feeling upset when I hear this question. I don’t like what the question implies: “It would be in those people’s best interest if their parents had used birth control, and they didn’t exist.” Despite their difficult circumstances, the Haitians themselves are glad they are alive, just as we who are more materially privileged and have less life-threatening problems are glad we exist. Upon hearing this question, I wish I had the magical ability to transport the person to Haiti. When you are sitting in front of a person who needs food, or medical care, or even a hug, their existence seems inevitable and good, just like yours and mine does.
When we think of people in an abstract way—as huge masses of the suffering, poor—we are more likely to draw conclusions that aren’t respectful of human dignity and the right to life. We view the people themselves as the problem and not the appalling conditions that exist in the world and that our sinfulness has helped create. This distancing is a form of denial.
The answer to the problem of poverty that kills is not birth control; it is living the Gospel, bringing the Kingdom of God to our world. Jesus personified it and preached it, and 2,000 years of Church tradition reinforce it. Perhaps Jesus’ strongest statement about how we are to treat the poor is in Matthew 25, where he links our care of those most in need to our salvation. Those who feed the poor, clothe the naked, care for the ill, visit the prisoner inherit the kingdom.
From the document, The Church in the Modern World, comes these challenging words: “. . . the right of having a share of earthly goods sufficient for oneself and one’s family belongs to everyone. The Fathers and Doctors of the Church held this opinion, teaching that men are obliged to come to the relief of the poor and to do so not merely out of their superfluous goods. If one is in extreme necessity, he has the right to procure for himself what he needs out of the riches of others. Since there are so many people prostrate with hunger in the world, this sacred council urges all, both individuals and governments, to remember the aphorism of the Fathers: ‘Feed the man dying of hunger, because if you have not fed him, you have killed him.’”
Before 2010, a good day in Haiti, particularly in Port-au-Prince, was already like the aftermath of a natural disaster. But this past year, the people of Haiti have borne an inconceivable level of suffering: a devastating earthquake that killed tens of thousands of people in a matter of seconds; seemingly permanent tent and tarp cities with all their problems of poor sanitation, lawlessness, and inadequate protection from the elements, including hurricanes; and as I write this, a deadly cholera outbreak that will likely kill thousands more people. The people of Haiti seem to be carrying the cross for the entire western hemisphere.
I don’t like typing that word thousands in the paragraph above—too many people gone and no names, faces, or stories with the number—so let me tell you about one bright spot: a four-year-old girl who survived for several days in a collapsed building destroyed by the earthquake, trapped next to her father who was dead. A relative brought her to a hospital where John was working and upon exam, he detected a heart murmur and sent her for an echocardiogram. She has a fixable heart problem, and we are searching for a hospital for her. So there is hope for her.
Faith, the faith of the Haitian people and our own faith, gives me hope. Poor Haitians who have so little materially have the greatest faith. They are constantly praising God and depending on Him. They show no self pity in the face of such painful, heartbreaking circumstances. When I get discouraged thinking about Haiti, I try to contemplate Jesus. God sent His only Son to walk among us and how did we treat him? How much darker can things get for us than God nailed to a cross? And yet, this was not the end and out of the Crucifixion came the Resurrection. I have faith that if we follow God’s great commands to love Him and each other, Haiti, too, will have a resurrection.