Oh Jesus

I’m not taking the Lord’s name in vain in the title here – this is literally the only reaction you can have to reading Matt Labash’s Weekly Standard profile of Father Rick Frechette and his work in Haiti. Labash’s trademark humor and eye for detail are in evidence here, but the power of the story is all Father Rick. You should, must, read the whole thing. One anecdote will do:

One afternoon, he says, he was going to visit some nuns. On his way there, he saw a teenaged boy burning in the street. A group of thugs had set him on fire. He was already dead, and Frechette could do nothing for him, but he drove ahead and asked the nuns for five buckets of water. He went back to the scene, hauling eight of the sisters with him. They got out of the truck, took the buckets, and extinguished the flames consuming the boy’s body.

“I can still hear it. I can still smell it,” Frechette says. “The sizzle like frying steak.”

“Then we put him in the back of the truck, and do what we always do. Have a prayer right there. To make a counter-witness by our own behavior. The gang that set him on fire stood there and watched as we did these things.” His missions’ role, whether through doctoring or teaching, bringing food or burying the dead, Frechette has written, is to help “repair the damage done … to make grace present, concretely, in our world.”

Later, the mother superior called Frechette telling him a trembling, crying woman came to the sisters and asked for her. When she came outside, the woman fell to her knees and kissed her hands. The mother superior didn’t understand. It was the mother of the boy who’d been burned. Someone had run to tell her, “They’re killing your son and setting him on fire.” She raced out of her shack, and when she was within view of her son, was so horrified, that her legs froze. She couldn’t move them, neither to run toward him, nor to run away. “She was frozen in hell,” Frechette puts it.

She told the mother superior that she saw a truck go by, and then slow down, and then keep going. Then she saw it come back. And the people in it got out, and “put out my son like I was wishing I could put out the fire on my son’s body.” Then they picked him up until he was clean. Then they prayed for him. “Everything she tried to do was done in front of her, by absolute strangers who didn’t know her or her kid.”

Of all the emotions the woman was entitled to, he wouldn’t guess gratitude would be high on the list. And yet there she was. “It made her able to live with it,” Frechette thinks. “It’s like God sent someone to help her, like it restored her faith in humanity again … I call it the countersign. The terrible thing that’s in front of you, you hurry, and offset it right away. Before what happens is too taxing and too poisonous … Sometimes with horrible things, you really feel there is nothing you can do. Nothing. You’re just useless. But over time, you start seeing that to do the right thing no matter what has tremendous power.”

If you happen to say a prayer tonight for this man and his ministry, well, I’m sure he can use it.