During the Christmas season, it seems like I’m bombarded with mailings of charitable requests.
In a recent conversation I’ve had with a colleague of mine, I was reminded that, in this spirit of giving, we should be mindful of those needs not just for the extraordinary, but for the ordinary, everyday essentials. And, in very poor countries like Haiti where there was a devastating earthquake in 2010 and this year in 2012, there is a cholera epidemic spreading across the country. Those essentials, unfortunately, include body bags to bury their dead.
Below is a story about Patricia Oetting from Barefoot Bay, Florida, taken from Moved By Faith: Stories from American Catholic Radio by Judy Zarick.
Sixty-seven-year-old Patricia Oetting from Barefoot Bay, Florida, has worked as a nurse for 46 years. Since October 2008, she has traveled several times a year to Haiti to work as a volunteer with other medical professionals in the poorest areas of Port-Au-Prince.
In one of the many ministries that Patricia is involved with, she assists Passionist Father Rick Frechette (also a physician) in his ministry called Compassion Weavers, which is dedicated to helping those in the slum areas get an education, clean water, disaster relief, and even something as basic as a dignified burial. Every Thursday, Father Rick goes to the morgue and collects the bodies whose loved ones can’t afford to bury them or those people who have simply been left at the morgue. They call it Project Tobit.
“The people are so poor,” Patricia explains, “that not only are they lacking food and water, they don’t have any money to bury the bodies of their deceased loved ones, so they have to abandon them. To me that is so sad. That seems like the ultimate poverty—when you can’t even bury someone you love.”
“If I’m in the woods, if I’m burying the dead in Haiti or in hospice, if I can say right here in this present moment dear Lord, there’s no where else on earth I’d rather be, then I think I’m doing what Jesus wants us to do.”
Unfortunately, the burials are continuing at a very rapid pace. In the past, Father Rick and Project Tobit would use donated paper mache coffins. But with the amount of burials having to be performed, the paper coffins won’t hold up.
“But truly right now the mass of the bodies there, I mean they were 4 deep, in June they were almost waist high to have to go in the morgue and take them out. They’re decomposing so you need good sturdy plastic body bags.”
“We’re not bodies with souls, we’re souls with bodies. We shed that body as our soul continues into the next bit of life. And to me, if the body was encased with our soul, it should be treated with respect and dignity. We should encase it properly when we bury it.”
“Mother Teresa once said something like, ‘Don’t wait for a leader. Do it yourself, person to person.’” Patricia says. “So that’s what I’m doing. The ministering of one person to another person is all we’re supposed to do in life. If we read Matthew 25, that’s what it is. When did you feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, comfort the afflicted, and bury the dead? It’s all right there. It’s all handed to me. All I have to do is just go do it.”
Patricia has been to Haiti nearly two dozen times since she first traveled there in 2008. And she doesn’t plan on ending her trips there any time soon.
If you’d like to help Father Rick and his ministry, check out his website: compassionweavers.org/donate.
Image courtesy of dan at freedigitalphotos.net.