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Boston priest visits Haitians, urges strength in face of uncertainty

By Dennis Sadowski
Posted: 2/5/2010

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Father Gabriel Michel, a Haitian-born priest who works in the Archdiocese of Boston, speaks to people living in a makeshift camp on the Petionville Club golf course in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jan. 31. An estimated 50,000 people were living in the camp. Many had lost everything in the major earthquake that struck Jan. 12.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (CNS) -- Father Gabriel Michel had heard plenty of stories about life at the mammoth tent camp that has grown on the Petionville Club golf course since Haiti's Jan. 12 earthquake.

The Haitian-born priest, who works with the Haitian community in the Boston Archdiocese, decided he had to go to the camp to see how people were doing and offer his support to those living in squalor but making do as best they can.

Greeting people along one edge of the camp, he exchanged pleasantries and tried to learn what people needed most. He also wanted to pray with the camp dwellers, to let them know God cared.

As he prepared to lead a group of people in prayer, he glanced again at the tent camp from a hillside overlooking the massive sea of sheets and clothes. That's when reality hit.

Tears welled up in Father Michel's eyes. He slumped against a tree, obviously distraught. The tremendous human toll of the Jan. 12 earthquake overwhelmed him.

After a few moments, the priest collected himself. It was time for prayer.

"As a people of faith we have to be courageous because God is with us," Father Michel told about 100 people gathered under a tree that offered a bit of shade under the hot midday sun. "In uncertainty, you have to be very strong."

Father Michel told Catholic News Service that the Haitian people will recover from the quake, which left at least 150,000 dead and 3 million homeless or injured.

"I've had conversations with people, and they are very brave," he said.

"The main concern they have is how long they are going to be here (at the club), and they're praying that God keeps them from the rain," he said.

Since people started gathering at the camp, only sprinkles have fallen, residents said. But January and February are dry months. With April and May the rainy season comes. Hurricane season is July, August and September.

Father Michel said he had been in Port-au-Prince a short time and planned to return to Boston in early February. He said he would like to come back for another visit, perhaps in six months to see how people are doing.

"I just want to be here and to let them know we are here," he said.