Devout Port-au-Prince survivors turn to prayer to deal with tragedy

Normal, Weekender

Every night since the earthquake, Port-au- Prince’s devout Catholic residents camping out on the streets have used song and prayer to get themselves through the pitch-blackness till dawn, writes CHRISTINA BOYLE

PORT AU PRINCE, HAITI – The Sunday church bells were eerily silent on Sunday, but the voices of people praying in the ruins were loud.
“We have not lost faith in God. We are still here, and to be alive is to have faith,” said Germain Jameson, 22, who worshipped at a Mass held next to the destroyed St. Louis Roi de France church.
Across the city, survivors gathered around makeshift altars in the rubble to celebrate Mass.
They joined hands and raised their arms to the sky in unison, singing beautiful French and Creole hymns which echoed through the air.
Every night since the earthquake, Port au Prince’s devoutly Catholic residents camping out on the streets have used song and prayer to get themselves through the pitch-blackness till dawn.
Sunday was their first chance to pray together in daylight hours, and it seemed to bring on the tears that have been remarkably absent in the past five days.
For one woman, it was all too much. She turned her back to the crowd of about 60 singers in the parking lot of St, Louis Roi de France walked away, before letting out a deep, howling cry.
A few blocks away, at the Sacre Coeur church, another group gathered by a painting of the Virgin Mary tacked onto a tree. The sat around a statuette of Jesus, salvaged unscathed from the wrecked church building.
“Protect us, and look after the spirits of all those who died,” the priest told the throng.
They sat on folding chairs and breeze blocks, undeterred by the hot sun or the helicopters hovering noisily overhead, while they sang, wept and prayed together for more than two hours.
“The people pray at night because they say they it’s better to die with your eyes open than with your eyes shut,” said Dolan Volcy, who was praying at Sacre Coeur church.
“But they always have hope. I don’t know why, maybe they have been born with that, but they hope.”
An elderly woman was brought to the service in a wheelbarrow, covered in blankets, her legs jutting over the end.
“I was trapped in my home, and they didn’t get me out until 10 o’clock the day after,” 75-year-old Marie Carme Morancy explained.
She had two blackened puffy eyes and a huge lump on her head from where debris came crashing down on her, her right leg was also badly bruised. “It was important to be here,” she said, simply.
In the crumbled remains of Port-au-Prince’s once-imposing main cathedral, the Rev. Henry Marie Landasse said Mass in place of the city’s beloved archbishop, crushed to death in his home.
“I want to send a message of hope because God is still with us even in the depths of this tragedy, and life is not over,” he said.
A blind man sang softly as he strummed a guitar in the cathedral’s ruins.
“I am singing for my country, for the razed presidential palace, for the razed justice palace, for my dead father, my dead sister,” he sang. “There aren’t enough tears for all my sorrow.”
The prayers were strong in Brooklyn’s Haitian community, too, where the pews were packed and hot tears flowed freely.
“We can’t go and help. We can just pray for them,” said Joseph Jeudy, 54, at Mary Queen of Heaven Church in Old Mill Basin, who lost five relatives.
“There are no more churches in Haiti. So all prayers count,” said Woodly Sainrose, 13, whose cousin was killed.
Mary Queen of Heaven’s special noon Mass for the victims of the earthquake was packed and sounds of sobbing echoed throughout the church during the service.
Members shouted the names of their loved ones missing or dead.
“So far, I lose seven people from my family,” said Suzelle Augustin, 58, a nurse from Old Mill Basin. – DAILY NEWS