His voice boomed out into the church, waking me up from the torpor resulting from a seven hour drive from Southern California back home that had begun at three yesterday morning. “Good Afternoon, Fellow Missionaries!” We were at the vigil Mass at St. Gall’s Church in Gardnerville, Nevada where a priest we had never seen before was celebrating Mass. A priest called Fr. Tom Hagan, OFSC strode to the front of the church to celebrate Mass, joyfully, loudly and forcefully.
His homily was long, maybe thirty minutes or a few minutes longer. But I was mesmerized. Despite my fatigue, Fr. Hagan woke me up. Today, I cannot get him or his organization out of my mind, out of my heart…he is still waking me up. Father Hagan is a missionary and reminds all of us that we are each called to a mission uniquely our own. Reminds us that if we ignore that quiet voice that challenges us, questions while urging that we take that risk, follow that path which looks impossible; because if we do not, there will be no one to walk it.
Father Tom Hagan was the Chaplain for Princeton University, Chaplain for Life, he explains, comfortably living among some of the wealthiest and best educated of the world; until he took a group of Lafayette college students to Haiti. And that comfortable world blew up when he listened to that quiet voice and decided to do something. Hands Together was founded when Fr. Hagan left his post at Princeton and moved to Port-Au-Prince in 1997.
He comes to churches like St. Gall’s in Gardnerville for several reasons. Primarily, to beg, the word he uses, for help for a three mile ‘city’ in Haiti where he lives along with more than half a million Haitians. The United Nations has called Cite Solei the most dangerous place on earth where anarchy and savage poverty rules and is home to Father Tom Hagan. During his appeal, Fr. Tom’s words are stark, graphic causing us to shift uncomfortably in our pews, our well-fed bodies ill at ease with the fact that fifty per cent of all children born in Father Tom’s ‘parish’ of 500, 000 will die of starvation before the age of five or at hearing about the orange hair and distended bellies that signify severe malnutrition and at his flat statements about prying the dead bodies of infants from the hands of despairing, unbelieving mothers.
Most surprising to me were the main themes of his talk which boiled down to these six points:
- Yes, we need your help desperately and if you can, send money
- But more than that, please do this for me, for yourselves and for the world,
- Resolve today to create a ‘little bit of heaven’ right where you are by
- Being a better more loving wife, husband, mother,
- And pray as hard as you possibly can asking Jesus, ‘what is it you are asking of me, today?’
- Understand that we are all called to be missionaries in the place where each of is, now.
It is astonishing and humbling to consider men like this one. So obviously called for something huge, impossible and massively dangerous. Last night, on the way home from Mass, I was filled with the image of Fr. Tom’s face when I shook his hand and he took it with a plea, “Please pray for me,” exhaustion, sorrow and pain written all over his face. What a privilege it is to know there are men like him in this sad and broken world; what a privilege it is to want to help.