The Gift of Magdalene

Sister Ann stopped me in my tracks with the story of 5 year old Magdalene. One of six children, Magdalene lives in suffocating, extreme poverty with her parents, five siblings and blind grandparents. If you have visited Haiti, you can imagine her world. Lumpy dirt floors too short for all the feet. Walls, with more holes than cobbled together bits of fronds, cane and moldy grasses, sag and shift in the winds. Dangerously spitting, open fires that cook more charcoal than food. And, all around, a jungle of vegetation and creatures ever determined to reclaim the small spot Magdalene’s family calls home.
This past summer, Magdalene awoke to find that her mother, who was sleeping beside her, had died during the night, a victim of cholera. Unable to understand why her mother was taken from the bed, never to return home again, Magdalene went into depression, and would not speak or eat. A week later she too got cholera along with her baby sister of one and a half years. Sr. Ann met Magdalene after her admission to the HSC cholera unit. Under her compassionate care, eventually little Magdalene began to eat and talk. Before the child left the hospital, Sr. Ann arranged for follow up care and schooling for all the children.

On Monday, October 10th, after her very first day of school, Magdalene and her brothers made a surprise visit to Sr. Ann. Dressed in her spotless uniform, school bag slung on her back, tiny Magdalene brought Sister a huge avocado as a token of appreciation.

Think back. What encompassed your world at the tender age of five? What brought you to tears: a broken toy, a scrapped knee, someone telling you, ‘No’?” What frightened you: a TV show, a spider, a loud noise?

Magdalene offers us the precious gift of contrast. She shows us what emotional and physical extremes a tender, frail child can survive; and she shows us, in a vivid, almost unbearable to view, tableau what is unconscionable for any child to endure. Magdalene’s gift now sits with us; to unwrap, to contemplate, to let settle deep in our souls. What will we do with this gift; this gift of unconscionable contrast?

A maelstrom of unsettling events circles our globe, each plopping the message of unjust contrasts into our laps. Foreclosed homes stand in the shadow of palace weddings, multi-billion dollar profits overarch outstretched tin cups, and a national obesity crisis gets reported a news column away from the latest seven figure tally of Africans, dead from starvation. The contrasts are too stark and too many to easily deny them. Thoughts of how to close the gaps can leave you limp from feelings of powerlessness.

That’s when you look again at Magdalene, and that huge avocado.

In a landscape of poverty and hunger, Magdalene found the biggest fruit, and gave it away. In the face of profound betrayal, she found the courage to love another maternal figure, and forged a mutual bond of trust. From the grip of death, with the help of a generous community, she loosed herself and found her way back to the life of a young girl, happy to share the simple joys.

For 25 years, CRUDEM/Hôpital Sacré Coeur donors, volunteers, and staff have banded together as a community to close the gaps implicit in the unjust, unconscionable contrasts present in northern Haiti. Each has found fruits, courage and strength in unlikely places and lovingly given them in joy and gratitude. As a result, countless Haitian lives have been saved, wounds have been healed and hope has been fueled. In return, the community and the region have been transformed and the gap has closed a bit.

So what will you do with Magdalene’s gift?

I hope you will pledge support for the 25th Anniversary Hope for Tomorrow Campaign and join us, as we work for another 25 years and beyond, to create a healthier Haiti, one dignified and transformed life at a time. And, I pray you will band with our community, as we continue to close the gaps between the unconscionable contrasts that diminish all our lives.