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Women carry the water collected from La Piste camp in Port-au-Prince, Haiti Women carry the water collected from La Piste camp in Port-au-Prince, Haiti  (ANSA)

Covid-19: Holy Week in poverty-stricken Haiti

Fr Richard Frechette, a 67-year-old American doctor and priest is performing both of these duties with all his heart as the poor, quarantined, nation of Haiti celebrates Holy Week.

By Francesca Merlo

Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. Over 6million people live below the poverty line and over 2.5 people live below the extreme poverty line. The coronavirus pandemic has led to economic downfall even in the richest of countries. Where does that leave one of the world’s poorest nations?

The fears

The news reaching Haiti from abroad is “terrible”, says Fr Rick. Speaking to Vatican Radio’s Marie Duhamel, he says that “the focus is not on the fact that 80% of the people get better”. The focus is on those who are ending up in hospital in critical conditions, the deaths and the “solitary funerals”, he says.

Fr Rick also expresses the fear people face “of being targeted” and of “what might happen to you if you are sick” noting that “There has already been hostility towards centres offering a place to those affected by Covid-19, as well as “towards people who have actually been sick”.

The first confirmed case of Coronavirus in Haiti dates back to 19 March. Since then, 21 cases of Covid-19 have been officially confirmed throughout the country.

The Haitian reality

The Haitian government has applied similar measures to those that are being seen in other countries: borders are closed, the airport has been closed and a lot of businesses and factories are also closed. But “the application of all these is very difficult in an economy that was already disastrous”, says Fr Rick. In an economy which has “such a high cost of living for people who have literally almost no income”, quarantine is making life extremely difficult.

“Just to give an example, my sister in the United States, sheltering in her place, is enjoying swordfish and salmon every night and playing scrabble. But for here, somebody having to shelter in a place with no chance to go on the streets and hustle to make enough money to live for today, means that tonight they are going to be sitting on their own, hungry with their children and worried about tomorrow.”

Living in total panic, “hand to mouth every day. That’s what makes the measures difficult to apply”, he reiterates.

A hospital's help

Hospital activity has been reduced. Fr Rick explains that they have “stopped bringing people together for lesser problems and have reduced their staff”. A 40-bed unit has opened up and they have managed to equip it with some ventilators. “It’s not huge in face of the need”, says Fr Rick, and “there aren’t a lot of other hospitals stepping up”. They do what they can, making the area “very tightly controlled with whatever protective gear they can find” in the midst of a global scarcity.

No mass for the children

The 600 children living in our children’s homes are all in quarantine, says Fr Rick. “They can’t come out and nobody goes in.” Holy Week is difficult. In Haiti “as in many other countries, all the churches are closed to public ceremonies”. He says he will be not going to the children’s homes because as a priest and physician he is in direct contact with Covid-19 patients and “there is no way” he will break their quarantine to say Mass for them.

Enough to ask God for the strength

However, there are still some Masses taking place in the front of our chapel, says Fr Rick. There, it is nice and airy and everybody can be separated by 2-3 metres. Although very few people gather to hear the basic liturgies and to “keep the tradition”, it is enough, he says. It is enough to “invoke from God the grace of these prayers and these sacraments in these high holy days”. We need His protection, concludes Fr Rick, “so we can find the internal strength that we all need, to face this pandemic”.

09 April 2020, 13:00