Haitians turn to God at quake anniversary

January 10, 2011 12:00 am

, PORT-AU-PRINCE, Jan 10 – Faith is about all Haitians have left a year after an earthquake destroyed their country and on the last Sunday before the anguished anniversary, they flocked to praise God.

In Port-au-Prince, hundreds of Roman Catholics attended Mass under tents erected next to the cavernous ruins of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption.

Their prayers filtered through palm trees and over rubble. Men wore immaculately pressed long-sleeved shirts and the women crisp white and pink dresses, somehow kept free of the dust and dirt choking the capital.

All across the city similar scenes unfolded. Later Sunday, thousands flocked to a stadium to hear an American preacher, Franklin Graham, a star in the conservative US evangelical movement.

From the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI dedicated a "special thought" to Haiti and said he was sending the head of the church\’s charity arm.

Haitians have long been known for fervent, rather idiosyncratic faith. A majority are Roman Catholic, but various Protestant churches have made strong inroads, while the deepest rooted faith here may be in voodoo.

On the eve of Wednesday\’s anniversary of the January 12, 2010 earthquake that killed more than 220,000 people and made homeless about one in 10 of the population, Haitians say they are more devout than ever.

"The earthquake increased faith for many people. Many returned to their faith," said Francoeur Roland, 32, a plumber attending the open-air Mass at the cathedral.

Asked what was he was praying for, Roland, wearing a white coral necklace, answered: "That this doesn\’t happen again."

The pastel pink and white outer walls of the cathedral still stand but inside is a scene of terrifying destruction. Giant pillars lie tossed over mountainous heaps of rubble. Pieces of stained glass — blue, red, gold — wink from the dusty debris.

Eder Charles, a gatekeeper at the cathedral complex, said the entire choir, which had been in rehearsal, was crushed and that bodies still lie under the rubble. Haiti\’s Catholic archbishop was among the other victims that day.

Charles said his prayer was for "something to change." What? "Everything. We are praying for the country to change."

There was a glimmer of good news Sunday when a UN group said that the number of people living in squalid tent camps has for the first time dipped below a million.

Scene: Terrifying rumors torment Haiti on anniversary

More than 800,000 people are still living in camps, but that is down from 1.35 million just in September, the International Organization for Migration said.

Many of those who have left camps are not properly housed, the IOM cautioned, since they are often living in tents on their old properties, or sharing space with other families in a house.

Waiting at the city stadium for Franklin Graham, son of Reverend Billy Graham, Beatrice J. Delievre said religion helped her believe that the natural disaster visited upon her country, the mass deaths, and overwhelming poverty, were not cause for despair.

Focus: Haitians in camps down to 810,000: IOM

"If all Haitians were not killed on January 12, then there is hope. Those who died, this was their time. But for those alive, there is hope," she said.

What Haitians have lost faith entirely in are the human powers of their political class.

At the moment when Haiti most needs leadership, the country finds itself in yet another round of political turmoil, with candidates from a first round of presidential elections squabbling over who should enter the second round.

Many here blame a lack of political vision for the inability to put Haiti back on its feet.

Focus: Where did all that Haiti aid money go?

Not only has there been almost no rebuilding, or restoration of services, but barely any of the rubble has been cleared from earthquake sites — including the collapsed presidential palace.

"Those are men and mankind is weak," Delievre, 29, said. "You can\’t put your trust in mankind, only in God. God can do everything."


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