Compassion for Haiti: The Gift of Tears

Haiti help

CRS staff unload hygiene kits for Haiti that were packed in the Dominican Republic. The kit includes items such as soap, toothpaste, mosquito nets, toothbrushes, and towels. Photo by Lane Hartill/CRS

by Deacon Charles Rohrbacher

Less than 24 hours after the earthquake that devastated Haiti on January 12th, I received, as the Catholic Relief Service diocesan coordinator, an email from a staff member of the CRS West Coast office. She asked us to do everything we could to mobilize the clergy and faithful in our dioceses: first, to lift up the victims of the earthquake in prayer and secondly, to be as generous as possible in financially donating to the relief effort.

She concluded her message by sharing with us the following:

“ I had the great privilege to spend a couple weeks in Haiti a few years ago and was struck over and over at the incredible faith and Spirit in the Haitian people. I was also struck, despite having lived, volunteered and visited in many countries at the depth of their suffering. May the Spirit give the grace and strength they need, once again, to face this suffering and recover as a people.”

Later that morning, she wrote again by email, to thank us all for responding so quickly to her appeal and then wrote something that moved me deeply: “I have been weeping all morning.”

You have to understand, that at least on the face of it, Catholic Relief Services is all about action: shipping container loads of food and medical supplies from here to there; water and irrigation projects; fair trade and microfinance loans; primary education for girls and their mothers, etc. As an agency, CRS is very good at getting things done, quickly and efficiently, especially in emergencies and disasters.

But I think that the essence of what CRS is all about was beautifully symbolized by the tears shed by my colleague. The important work of relief and development that CRS does in partnership with Catholics of the Church in the United States is the direct result of our hearts having been moved by sufferings of others who we, by grace, have come to recognize as our brothers and sisters.

Our Christian tradition understands tears as a gift, not only the tears of contrition but also the tears of solidarity in grief and sorrow, when we mourn with those who mourn and weep with those who weep.

Our tears are not a substitute for action but symbolize, I think, the wellspring of compassion that is the source of solidarity itself. Compassion. The word itself has deep Christian roots, and has come into English from the Old French compassiō, which means, literally, “to suffer with”. Motivated by love of God and love of neighbor, compassion calls us to share the sufferings of others and to respond generously with consolation and all necessary aid.

The preface of Fourth Eucharistic Prayer for Various Needs and Occasions, entitled, ‘Jesus, the Compassion of God’ states with such simplicity and beauty:

You sent Jesus Christ your Son among us as redeemer and Lord. He was moved with compassion for the poor and the powerless, for the sick and the sinner; he made himself neighbor to the oppressed. By his words and actions he proclaimed to the world that you care for us as a father cares for his children.

The mystery and the scandal of the Incarnation is that in the person of Jesus, God came to enter into our suffering. In Jesus, God identifies completely with all those who suffer and invites us to meet him in the poor and the powerless and in all those whose sufferings cry out to heaven.

One of the challenges of this disaster in Haiti, which is already so desperately poor, is that it reveals to those of us who make up the privileged minority in this world the misery and deprivation that is the daily reality of the majority of the brothers and sisters with whom we share this planet.

Confronted by so much suffering, we might be tempted to turn away in despair; become cynically apathetic and close our hearts in on ourselves and those closest to us. Or stand on the sidelines and criticize the real (and inevitable) shortcomings of the Church, of governments and humanitarian institutions and effectively do nothing.

But we are members of the Body of Christ. As St.Paul said to the Church in Corinth so many centuries ago, “When one part of the Body suffers, the entire Body suffers.” We are called to compassion because we are one Body in Christ. As his Body, Jesus, the Compassion of God, who loves and suffers with every person, invites each one of us to be his compassion in this world and so to enter into active solidarity with all those who suffer.

I am grateful that my colleague shared her tears with us as she invited us to open our hearts to the suffering people of Haiti.

Open our eyes to the needs of all; inspire us with words and deeds to comfort those who labor and are burdened; keep our service of others faithful to the example and command of Christ.
– Eucharistic Prayer for Various Needs and Occasions IV.

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One Response to “Compassion for Haiti: The Gift of Tears”

  1. Sue Lang Says:

    Having lived through several crises of faith, myself, I can relate to the Haitian people’s cry for understanding at this difficult time.



    Oh Father, grant me the faith, hope and love that I need to keep going during this extraordinary and difficult time.

    I feel as though you have abandoned me and my family – if I can even find my family. Not just now, but in the recent past, as well. Are you angry with me, Lord? Are you angry with all of us, Haitians, Lord? Where is your love?

    Show me your belief in me amidst all of this destruction.

    Today, I need to see your graces – front and center.

    While food and water and medicine are necessary, they are not the sum total of my needs – show me that you care, show me that you love me, show me that you are by my side during this horrific ordeal. Please renew and rejuvenate my faith and hope in you.

    You have brought to me all of these wonderful people working to help me recover and move forward. In them, I see you. But the pain and suffering is so real and so complete, I lose my faith often and need more assurance that you are with me. Please come to me Lord and grant me the peace I need to get through this minute, this hour, this day and to remind me of your love and commitment to not just me, but to all mankind.

    I am waiting, Lord. I am waiting, Lord. At times, my needs crowd out my faith in you. I ask for your presence in me and everyone here in your stead. Amen.

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