HERSHEY, Pa. (WHTM) — On Tuesday evening, Deacon Rodrigue Mortel was front and center before a crowd of hundreds at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church.
Holding the Holy Bible above his head during the opening procession, Mortel then joined Bishop William Gainer at the alter to oversee the Sacrament of Confirmation for dozens of young adults.
The past several evenings have been less celebratory.
“It took a lot of toll on my emotional status,” Mortel said.
Mortel hails from Haiti. Forty-five years ago, he left his native home in the Caribbean to practice medicine in the United States, eventually leading the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Penn State Hershey Medical Center. But his connection to his homeland has continued, through both family and philanthropy.
Since powerful Hurricane Matthew made landfall in Haiti over the past 24 hours, Mortel has been in constant contact with his sister, as well as the director of several schools he has helped to build for impoverished children.
“In the area where we are, which is in the center north of Port-au-Prince, there have been violent, whooshing winds,” Mortel said, “but there has not been the flooding and destruction that there has been in the southern part of the country.”
Mortel says while the United States braces for potential hurricane impact, Americans should be concerned for the safety of their property and lives. However, in Haiti, a hurricane of Matthew’s strength is almost certain to bring mass destruction and death.
“The type of housing the people live in,” he added. “Then, when they face a wind coming in at 140 miles per hour, you can imagine that wind would lift up the shacks in which they live. One thing Haiti does not need at this time is another natural disaster because they are still recovering from the earthquake six years ago.”
Mortel says he will pray for the people in his native land, and asks for other Midstate Catholics to do the same. He says it has not been decided whether any special collections will be taken for victims of the hurricane in Haiti.