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In Emilie’s footsteps

“Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” Mt 25, 40. I would like to take this opportunity to share with you the experience I have had after three years in the civil prison of Les Cayes.

I remember my first Christmas party celebrated in the community of Saint Veronique: there was an exchange of gifts, as we do every year, and I asked the person who had drawn my name not to buy me a gift, but rather to give me some money to make a small gift to some prisoners. As I write this, I feel moved because almost all the sisters in the community at that time renounced their gifts for the prisoners. I had also received donations from my biological family, and even Mr. Alfred Etienne, CEO of INNODEV (INNOVATION AND DEVELOPMENT, a social enterprise providing consulting, project management and execution services) participated so that that year we could buy toiletries for the incarcerated people. In the beginning, I aimed at women, because, first of all, I did not have many means. After all, they are less numerous than men. To this end, I contacted the director of the prison who advised me to think of the men as well because they are often forgotten because of their large number. I spoke to the sisters of my community about it, but unfortunately, it was not in the budget for the year, because I arrived in Torbeck in August. But Providence took care of the rest and we gave toiletries to over 600 people.

The following year, we included this project in the community’s budget; we gave toiletries to over 700 people including women and children. In 2020, the community was still considering this noble project and we gave toiletries to over 800 people. I’ve taken the time to mention the number of people to entrust them to your prayers. These 800 people are housed in a space that was built for about 102 people. In addition to the women who are about thirty in two cells, the children who are about twenty in another cell, 11 people with tuberculosis in a separate cell, the rest of the group is distributed as follows: between 35 and 65 men per cell out of a total of 19 cells for 800 people. This is promiscuity. What do our authorities say about this? What are they doing to change or improve the situation by taking into account the proposals made? Nothing. Can we imagine what is happening in this prison? Well, amid these people, God is locked up, wounded, mistreated, he lives amongst all these humiliated, dishonoured people, he suffers with all these young people who are victims of the Haitian society. Looking at the faces of all these women and men, who live in an inhuman situation, the sense of charity rises in me. Like Émilie Gamelin, despite my preoccupations – work at École Émilie-Gamelin, full-time studies, collaboration at the parish, community life – my heart always has room for this most rejected group in our society. It awakens my critical thinking to the way the judicial system, which sometimes seems to be too slow, works in this country. The complaint and clamour of many who find themselves incarcerated, regardless of the legal time limits provided by law, show more clearly that fair justice in our country is far from being achieved.

However, the experience obtained and lived with these people shows a great thirst and hunger for justice amid all this injustice. Every time I visit them, I receive a note on a piece of paper from one or another of these people, asking for spiritual help because some of them are eager to go out to meet their families, or for financial help, to buy food or toiletries. This question then came to my mind: “What can I do for God who is in all these people deprived of freedom, deprived of food or clothes, who sleep in inhuman conditions and whose most basic needs are not met; finally, that are deprived of everything?”

These words of Jesus resonate very strongly with me: “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” Mt 25:40. I know someone who was touched by this phrase and who was not afraid to run the risk of going to the rescue of the prisoners of her time, she was called “the Angel of the prisoners”. If she were alive today, she would undoubtedly go to the aid of all those people whose rights and dignity are not respected. Faithful to our charism, I do not hesitate to go to the periphery as Pope Francis exhorts us to do for bringing hope to the people in prison who are often desperate.

“Driven by the Spirit and by the testimonies of our sisters

the love of Christ urges us, like our predecessors

to hear all the cries of our world

and in humility, let us open our hearts to them.

Faith in the love of God gives us wings to go.

Hope in God’s love gives us the audacity to go

to the peripheries where God calls us.”

Simplicity, in the Album: “Les bienfaits de la Providence”

Sister Eugena Nogaüs, SP

Torbeck, Haiti