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 email@example.com.)
Why did you go to
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
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
even imagine how bad the rest is. The roads were
in really bad shape. You needed a Jeep even for
the paved roads.
|Laundry with Fr. Michael|
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.
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?
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.
that the Mission Youth shirt was important for you, in
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
What was the
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
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
|A peaceful moment|
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
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.
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
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?
was for the ones the hospitals won´t accept. They bring
them there out of the gutters and ditches to have
a dignified death.
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.
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.
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
What did you
leave behind in Haiti, and what did you take with
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