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Journey of Self Discovery
HAITI | WHO WE ARE | NEWS
Regnum Christi Mission Corps volunteer learns about himself and the meaning of life while serving in Haiti

Carlos and Lary
Carlos and Lary

by Br. Brett Taira 

Regnum Christi Mission Corps volunteer Carlos Nunez, age 19, was raised in Atlanta, Georgia, and is currently serving in Chicago, Illinois.  He just returned from his first mission trip this month.  From Jan. 2 through Jan. 10, 2013, he served the poorest of the poor in Haiti. Following is an interview with him about his experience. (The Haiti mission trips, lead by Fr. Michael Mitchell LC, Fr. Aaron Smith LC, and consecrated women Paola Trevino and Rebecca Olek, are an ongoing opportunity for volunteers. For more information, contact Rebecca at rolek@regnumchristi.net.) 

Why did you go to Haiti?

Fr. Michael Mitchell LC gave a homily about his experience in Haiti, and I felt called to go. (Click here for a testimony article about Fr. Michael’s experience.)  

What were your first impressions of Haiti? 

I was expecting it to be like Mexico, where I was born.  Poor houses and maybe a little malnutrition. From the plane it looked like a beautiful tropical island, but when we got into the city there were ruins and dust everywhere. The whole city smelled like trash. I said to myself, if this is what downtown looks like, I can’t
Laundry with Fr. Michael
Laundry with Fr. Michael
even imagine how bad the rest is. The roads were in really bad shape. You needed a Jeep even for the paved roads.
 

What was the first thing you did in Haiti? 

We started with Mass and this opened me up to sacrifice for Christ. I wanted to take these missions seriously and to take my faith to the next level. The first Mass really did it for me. In most Masses I feel like I´m observing Christ sacrificing himself for us, but at this Mass I felt I was offering myself as a sacrifice with Him, to give my life for others.  I felt united in a special way to Christ on the Cross and this set the tone for the whole mission. All I wanted to do that week was to take people’s suffering and unite that suffering to Christ on the Cross. I wanted to be God´s instrument right then and there for whatever he needed me to do. 

What was it like working with the other missionaries? 

In the orphanage I was watching as consecrated women, Legionaries, and laypeople worked together.  Something clicked. For me, it was like it was meant to be.  We had the same values, but complementary roles.  The lay people knew right away how to treat patients and children.  The priests were spiritual doctors.  The consecrated women kept the whole team together and guided us along the way.  It was really cool, like a family unit. I really bonded with all the people. We all got to know each other very well. It feels like we know each other for years, even though we had never worked together before the mission. We were a very tight group. 

What was it like working with the Missionaries of Charity? 

They live in the worst areas, but they’re still happy and smiling even though they face death every day. Most people who face such suffering grow numb and cold, but you can see the fire in their eyes – for them every soul matters. 

You said that the Mission Youth shirt was important for you, in what way? 

Paola told us that every time we put on our Mission Youth shirt, we should be missionaries. (I am already giving a year as a Regnum Christi missionary, so I am already a “missionary.”) But I felt like I needed to take this further. Every time I put on that shirt, I prayed that I would die to myself. I prayed that my pride and selfishness would die. I prayed that I would be Christ for others, and would unite all their pains to Christ.

What was the orphanage like? 

There were tons and tons of cribs. At first I felt sad. Many of the babies were very sick and hooked up to IVs and feeding tubes. The ones that were strong enough to respond to us were starving for love and attention.  All they wanted from us was a hug. I was afraid to go to the babies with all the tubes and IVs, so I went to one who wasn’t as sick, but seemed sad and unresponsive.  His name was Lary. Lary’s eyes didn’t even focus on
A peaceful moment
A peaceful moment
me at first. The first time I put him down, he didn’t even cry. The best response you can get is crying – that’s how you know the baby is actually responding. The next day I went to Lary again.  He gave me a strange look, as if he were confused that the same person had come back again to hold him.  At the end of that day, he cried when I put him down.  I felt like we made a connection.  On the third day, Larry put his hands up when I came.  This was the first time he ever smiled.
 

That gave me the courage to go to see the babies that were really sick. I found this baby that looked like he was going to die. He was so skinny - you could see every bone. His stomach was swollen, his cheeks swollen. His breathing was rapid and shallow. There was a feeding tube in his nose. He was too weak to even move. As I was standing there he threw up and was choking in his own vomit.  Instinctively I moved to help. Later, they told me that he was too sick even to digest food. I was shocked. I’ve never seen anyone so close to death, let alone a child. 

I was overwhelmed. I didn’t know who to turn to, so I turned to God.  Right away I got this feeling the baby wasn´t baptized.  I asked Fr Aaron, and he said all these babies have usually been baptized already. Still the feeling got stronger. I knew that this baby needed to be baptized, so I asked the caretakers and sisters.  Since the baby was dying, they told me to find a priest to do the baptism.  I found Fr Aaron and he baptized him with the name James. I felt like a hero -- actually more than a hero. That was the greatest moment for me -- to be able to help bring God´s grace to this soul. 

Fr Aaron asked me if I wanted to be the godfather.  I was scared to take on that responsibility.  I was blown away by the thought of supporting him in prayer for his life -- however short that life might be. I knew he´s wasn’t going to make it for very long, and that he would be in heaven and would be praying for me.  It was a super intense moment -- being spiritually united to this child. It was just amazing. 

After the baptism, I felt I had a connected with James. I visited him the next two days. Even though a crowd of us gathered around the crib, his eyes seem to follow just me. One of the priests also mentioned that he noticed this too.  I really prayed for James. I prayed that God would lessen his sufferings, and that he would have the chance to experience unconditional love in this life and be at peace. I prayed for hope that his health would get better, but I knew the chances weren’t good.                               

I found out later that he was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and that day was the last time I saw him. I was feeding him through his feeding tube when I heard a faint moan of pain. There was nothing more physically I could do for him. For me that was the low point of the whole day – realizing that I couldn´t physically help him anymore.  I had a hard accepting that.  Again, I turned to God.  At
Baby James
Baby James
that moment I knew nothing more on earth could help James.  It was tough trusting God and letting go. It wasn´t in my hands anymore.  James was taken to the hospital the next day.
                          

God allowed me to feel like I was dying. I realized everything I was attached to in this life would disappear.  Every person I would help would be taken away from me.  After this, I began seeing Christ in everyone’s faces.  When Mother Teresa said she saw Christ in everyone´s face - she really meant it.  It´s the most beautiful, pain-filled face you can find, but it overwhelms you because no matter how much love you give, He always loves more in return. 

What were your experiences in the house of the dying? 

This place was for the ones the hospitals won´t accept. They bring them there out of the gutters and ditches to have a dignified death. 

For me, going inside where the really sick people were was like a nightmare. The sisters who work there are really heroes -- they do this every day without fear. You could feel the peace of the sick, knowing they would die in God´s arms. It felt like their suffering was for a purpose – so they could get to heaven, instead of suffering in despair.  It took away my fear and repulsion. 

At first it seemed like a fortress of darkness and disease, but when we came in, it felt like we brought the light with us. The whole place seemed converted to a place of light and joy. There were about 200 tuberculosis and AIDS patients.  It was really intense, seeing some of these people my age dying for something they could easily be treated for in the US.   Knowing we had no protection from these diseases made me nervous. It was hard to find Christ´s face.  My natural human instinct was to save myself from disease, and disease was in people all around me -- these people I needed to love. My only thought was to trust in God, so I did. 

I gave away my Mission Youth cross to one of the kids. I felt like he needed it more than I did. "I´ll pray for you,” I said in half English half Creole. He kissed the Cross and nodded. 

I worried that here was so much darkness, it would consume the light we had brought once we had left. I worried that these people might get depressed again, but I hoped that they would keep their joy alive. 

Later, we played a soccer game outside. I was super nervous that I might fall and get a cut and get infected.  But I´ve never seen anyone enjoy a soccer game more than these people. Even though they were ages 12 to 19, they were all the same height due to malnutrition.  (I thought they were all 12 year olds!) It was amazing to see their smiles, knowing that they had been condemned to death by society. One minute they would cough, spit out blood, and then go back to smiling and playing again like nothing happened. 

While I was there, the priests gave the anointing of the sick to three people who were going to die.  I´d never seen that sacrament, and it was really powerful for me. It was amazing to see the gratitude of these people for God’s presence.  Now, having witnessed all seven sacraments and all the ways that God gives His grace, I feel complete. 

What did you leave behind in Haiti, and what did you take with you? 

I left behind so much love. Paola said you should leave a piece of your heart behind. The kids might not remember my face in a few months, but they will remember the love of Christ forever.               

I think I have a new appreciation for everything we do. I used to think you have to be famous to do something great for the world. Now I know I can help the world without having to be famous. Once you see Christ´s face in people, you can never forget it. There´s something that drives you to it. Now I will feel incomplete until I find this again, and I struggle to find it here in the US.  It´s harder to find Christ´s face here. In Haiti there´s no comfort zone. You see the suffering Christ, because people are suffering. You only see it here when something bad happens. I want to be able to find Christ, even in the people who are indifferent to Christ. I want to love people who don´t know they need Christ’s love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


PUBLICATION DATE: 2013-01-21


 
 


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