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Survivors of Haiti quake seek solace across faiths

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — At night, voices rise in the street. Sweet, joyful, musical voices in lyric Creole. A symphony of hope in a landscape of despair.

"It doesn't mean anything if Satan hates me, because God loves me," sing the women at Jeremy Square, their faces almost invisible in the darkness of this powerless, shattered downtown. "God has already paid my debt."

Haiti is known as a society of devout Christians — Catholics, Protestants, Methodists, evangelicals — and followers of voodoo. Faith has long played a powerful role in this impoverished nation, giving hope to the poor and fulfilling social functions that the government is incapable of handling.

But in the days since the earth pitched and rolled here, pulverizing shanties and mansions alike, the religious differences that sometimes separated Haitians have come crashing down.

Port-au-Prince has become a kind of multidenominational, open-air church. Tens of thousands now live in the street together, scraping for food and water, sharing their misery and blending their spirituality.

The women singing together in Jeremy Square might never have worshiped side by side before the disaster, but now their voices harmonize and soar well past 2 in the morning. Lionelle Masse, a stringy woman with a deep, sad voice who lost a child in the quake, sings next to Rosena Roche, a fiery-eyed Catholic whose husband is buried under tons of rubble.

"I still have faith in God," Roche says. "I want to give glory to God."

Regardless of their faiths, countless Haitians have similar questions: Why was I spared? Are we being punished for our sins? Is this a test of faith? What happens in the afterlife?

Seekers stream into the parking lot of the ruined Sacre Coeur Catholic church, a 105-year-old brick gem that was turned into a grim, hollowed-out shell, its stunning stained-glass windows tossed to the ground in shards. There, the Catholics and the Protestants and others seek solace from Father Hans Alexander, a Haitian priest who took his decidedly un-Haitian first name from his German father. He doesn't ask them about their religion; he asks them about their pain.

"Catholics and Protestants and other religions are praying together now," Alexander says, as two tearful women slump over his thick, broad shoulders. "We are saying, 'We love Jesus; we don't care about religions. We just care about the Lord.' " He has tried to teach his followers this lesson for years but did not always succeed in changing the minds of parishioners who thought their religion was better or truer than others. The quake, he says, has done much to persuade those he could not.

Like almost everyone here, the woe is personal for Alexander. Beneath the broken remnants of his rectory are the bodies of at least 20 church members he now must mourn, alongside their friends and relatives. Some of the grieving have wrestled with guilt about having survived while their loved ones died, but Alexander assures them that "it is not because God loves one person more than another."

Survivors of Haiti quake seek solace across faiths 01/16/10 [Last modified: Saturday, January 16, 2010 10:40pm]
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