Christmas is the celebration of both motherhood and childhood, the double doorway through which almighty God chose to come to into our difficult human world, to try to lead us to peace.
As I write these words, 84 children in the United States, ranging in age from just a few months to teens, were just freed an multistate network of 120 human traffickers, who have been arrested.
The plight of children in the world is fearsome: child slaves, child prostitutes, child soldiers, and child gangsters. The numbers of children living at the lowest levels of poverty, the amount of childhood hunger, the extent of infant and child illness and mortality are daunting.
Also as I write these words, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency, there are 65 million people in the world who are displaced from their homes, belong to no country (are stateless) or are refugees.
Roughly half of these are women, and of these millions are pregnant, or with nursing and small children.
Central to the Christmas story is that Mary, as a young pregnant girl, had to leave home and take to rough roads, under the orders of the Roman governor in Syria, so the Jews might be “counted,” in the town native to the husband.
Also central to the Christmas story is that immediately after the birth of her precious baby, on a bale of hay as a displaced woman, she had to flee to Egypt and spend years as a refugee, or her son would have been killed by a jealous King in Jerusalem, city if peace.
It is not only trees beautifully lit, and sweet carols, that make Christmas familiar to us.
But in fact, Christmas is also familiar because of how similar the rough and painful experiences of the Holy Family are, to the tragic daily fare of millions of women and children today, two thousand and seventeen years later.
Very recently, as I was driving through Port au Prince on my way to anoint the dying and try to heal the destitute sick whose death might be delayed with proper care, at one of the clinics of Mother Teresa’s Sisters, a very sick woman on the road caught my eye.
The first glance showed that she was young, she was pregnant, and she was in a lot of trouble.
She could not help at all as two people as young as she was, tried to lift her and lay her down in the simple tap tap, the public transport for the masses. I wondered why they were leaving a hospital, instead of going into it.
I asked what happened, and was told there was no room in the hospital. I learned they had been refused at another hospital already, and there would be no guarantee of a place where they would go next.
Thank God for our maternity wing at our own St Damien Hospital. The young girl was nearly in coma, and driving any more around the city looking “for a place at the inn” would kill her. And surely a manger was no place for a woman with eclampsia, which was her fairly evident condition.
With no time to lose by calling our ambulance, I paid the tap tap to take her to St Damien Hospital.
Andre, who was raised from infancy in our childrens home in Haiti (and is now 25), works with me. I sent him with them, to be the Angel Gabriel, to guide the tap tap the fastest way to St Damien Hospital. I continued on, to see the sick waiting for me across town.
My vehicle is a four-wheel drive, off road, jeepish kind of thing they call a “Polaris.”
It has no windows, makes a lot of noise, is very hot, and all street noise comes in. So I didn’t hear my cell phone ring. Again, and again, and again.
When I arrived at the Sisters, my heart dropped to my feet when I saw 13 missed calls from Andre.
This could not be good news.
The tap tap had broken down.
I raced to the scene, a good 30 minutes away, also trying at the same time by phone to send one of our ambulances from St Damien, but they were all out on calls. I was trying to figure how I would carry the poor comatose girl in the Polaris.
Very shortly after, I saw an empty tap tap, and I promised him a good stipend if he would follow me and finish an urgent delivery to St Damien Hospital.
We made the transfer in the middle of the street, the poor mother nearly lifeless, as we lifted the sheet she was on, to carefully change trucks. Archangel Andre is a rookie on my team, he was sweating and in a holy panic, but brilliant and compassionate.
Once they got to the hospital, and I was at the Sisters, I got a call from St Damien. The mother was 17 and in a coma, the family with her was even younger than she. The treatment for eclampsia is, of course, delivery of the baby, and in this case by Cesarean, because the baby is pre term. The question was, did I know the mother or father? The young girls said they were in the province. Who would give the consent?
They were all under age, and the one concerned was in a coma.
On sonogram, the baby’s heart was beating but there were no other movements of the tiny body. The baby’s survival was unlikely because of the gestational age. But without the Cesarean both would die.
Who would give the consent? I was the only possible choice.
I consented, and took my rosary beads from my pocket.
The first joyful mystery, the annunciation of the nativity of the Messiah- don’t fail us now.
The baby survived. A tiny girl, peering curiously out of her incubator. The mother came out of her coma about 4 hours later. Our tender staff, who are also mothers, showed her how to nurse the baby at her breasts.
The story of Christmas is old, and yet ever new. The blessings called children, the heroism of mothers, the Archangels Gabriel and Andre who are never far off, and soar into the story at the critical moment in order to save the day.
This Christmas as we celebrate again the wonders of moms and children, let’s also pledge to stand with them in their agonies and ecstasies.
When we stand for what is right and true, God blesses our ways.
When we strive to create safe havens for pregnant mothers in distress, like St Damien Hospital, and when we create safe havens for children in our homes in nine countries, God’s blessing is sure.
Thanks to all of you for your ongoing help, which make all this possible.
God’s blessing at Christmas, and throughout the new year of grace.
Fr Rick Frechette CP. DO
Port au Prince, Haiti