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On the Way There (Article)

A Month in Haiti
Fr Oscar Capilla, LC, on living the mission through prayer and the priesthood.

Fr Oscar Capilla, LC, with the Mission Youth missionaries and one of the Missionaries of Charity.
Fr Oscar Capilla, LC, with the Mission Youth missionaries and one of the Missionaries of Charity.

August 11, 2011. Each mission trip to a needy land is like walking into another reality—both for the missionaries and for the accompanying priest chaplain. And each missionary experience leaves a mark, subtly changing the person in ways that become clear only after more time has gone by.

This year, Fr Oscar Capilla, LC, spent the whole month of June in Haiti, accompanying two Mission Youth groups to Port-au-Prince, where they worked at the Missionaries of Charity orphanage, and supporting the Mission Haiti volunteers stationed in the small village of Divujé four hours away by dirt roads.

In both places, he ministered to the volunteers and to the local Haitian people, celebrating Masses, hearing confessions, leading Eucharistic processions, listening, and offering advice as best he could in Haitian Creole. In Divujé, the villagers do not have a priest stationed with them full-time, so the chance to attend Mass and receive communion was deeply appreciated.

“One of the things that touched me was the fact that they don’t get the opportunity to have Mass every Sunday. You could see their appreciation and intensity in the way they lived out those sacraments,” he said.

One girl in the village came to make her first communion but she hadn’t yet been baptized. So Fr Oscar performed the baptism in the sacristy five minutes before Mass.

“In Haiti’s rural areas, some parishes are too poor and too vast to keep complete records and paperwork,” he explained. “People know they are baptized because they remember or because someone in their family remembers. It was her only opportunity to receive baptism by a priest and make her first communion, so it was either now or never.”

A typical day on the missions in Port-au-Prince began with Mass, followed by a short planning session with the missionaries, who then went down to the school and organized games and activities for the children. In spite of not speaking the language, the missionaries were somehow able to communicate with the children in a mixture of English and broken French. After lunch, the missionaries took a break until 3:00, at which time the children, guided by the Missionaries of Charity, had a holy hour with the Rosary, a reflection, and Eucharistic benediction. The children had dinner at 5:00 and then went to bed, at which time the missionaries had their evening activities and night prayers.

In the town of Divujé, Fr Oscar spent the morning doing manual labor with the local missionaries stationed at Mission Haiti, and then spent the afternoon visiting the villagers, going from house to house with nurses and other volunteers to see if they needed any practical or medical assistance. 

In his time spent with the Haitian people, one quality stood out: trust in God. Even in the wake of a national disaster, the Haitians showed a simple acceptance of the reality of their daily life. In the midst of ruins, they still smiled.

When asked if these missions deepen his experience of the priesthood, Fr Oscar said they drive home a key lesson that becomes deeper over time.

“They make you see that it’s not what you do, but it’s the work of God through the sacraments and through your priesthood,” he said. You see God’s action in the world through the poor instruments that we are.”

After four eventful years as a priest, if he could go back in time and give himself a piece of advice on the eve of his ordination, what would he say?

“It’s not about you. It’s about Jesus Christ. It doesn’t matter where you are and what you’re doing. It’s about him shining through and him being the person that people go to,” he said, adding, “And don’t focus too much on the practical things.”

He also added that prayer makes you see things in a different light, so that the mission is not just a task to be fulfilled, but an experience of God’s action through oneself and others.

“It was a simple yet powerful experience of God’s action in the world—an action that is not the way we would expect it to be, especially in places like Haiti.”

On a pragmatic level, he said, one could be tempted to just solve the immediate material needs, saying, “I know how to fix this place: just bring a lot of money and rebuild.”

“But in prayer, you realize how things are a lot more complex, and that only God can change men’s hearts and life.”



Related links

Helping Hands Medical Missions
St Rafael Guizar y Valencia Missionary Center

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