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Pinellas congregations rally for Haitian quake victims

The telephone calls were a relief to the Haitian teenager awaiting surgery at St. Anthony's Hospital. His mother, sister and uncle were alive.

For his St. Petersburg host, though, the grandmotherly woman who had welcomed him into her home as he prepared for hip surgery, the news was heartrending.

Gabrielle Berthelot's sister had perished in the ruins of her home. Further compounding Berthelot's grief was learning she had been buried in a mass grave before her body could be claimed.

In congregations around Pinellas County, stories like these — of lives lost or saved, of injuries and devastation — are not simply media accounts. Church members have trudged treacherous mountain paths to build clinics, churches and schools in impoverished Haitian communities. They've sponsored children's education and given money for hot meals.

As they continue to learn the effects of the Jan. 12 earthquake, these congregations already are planning to rebuild and renew their commitments.

The calamity has also galvanized religious communities without a presence in Haiti. Some groups have launched individual relief drives. Others are encouraging members to donate to umbrella organizations.

Tampa Bay Muslims will make a joint financial donation, said Imam Wilmore Sadiki of the St. Petersburg Islamic Center. Bishop Robert N. Lynch of the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg has called for special collections at Masses for Catholic Relief Services. In the Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Florida, Bishop Dabney Smith is urging "compassionate generosity'' and asking parishioners to donate to the Episcopal Relief and Development Fund. Lake Seminole Presbyterian Church's Web site suggests members give to Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, which has rushed $100,000 to Haiti.

"Together our voices are stronger than when we speak alone. Together our donations amass more aid than if we give alone,'' Rabbi Michael Torop told his congregation during Friday's Sabbath service at Temple Beth-El in St. Petersburg.

Rabbi Jacob Luski of Congregation B'nai Israel of St. Petersburg sent a mass e-mail urging members to help. Jews are obliged to be compassionate, Luski said Tuesday.

In Shore Acres, Northeast Presbyterian Church has hastily organized a concert for Sunday to raise money for its missions in Haiti, said Jim Vanderbleek.

Early this week, former St. Petersburg City Council member Jamie Bennett scoured the Internet in search of water purification tablets to take to Haiti. Bennett, a member of St. Matthew's Episcopal Church in St. Petersburg, will travel with Father John Kivuva Mwiya of St. Bartholomew's and the Rev. Joseph Myrthil of Redeemer Baptist Church to the island next week.

Their destination is Loiseau, Leogane, about 40 miles from Port-au-Prince, where St. Matthew's built and supports St. Francis School.

"We will try to get food and some immediate relief to our people,'' said Bennett, who said at least 35 people have died there and the church and school have been badly damaged.

Holy Family Catholic Church in St. Petersburg also has close connections in Haiti. Father John Tapp said the parish has learned that there have been many deaths in the Beau-Sejour area where Holy Family's twin parish, St. Gabriel's, is located. All of the school children are safe, he said.

At 1727 16th St. S in St. Petersburg, Marlene Berthelot — Gabrielle Berthelot's daughter — is scrambling to set up an office for her Par La Foi mission near the earthquake's epicenter. She and the Rev. Marie Jessie A. Pierre have packed more than a dozen boxes of medical supplies they hope to take to the island.

Those involved with Partners With Haiti, a ministry of St. Paul's Catholic Church, still hope to travel in March to La Gonave, home of their twin parish, St. Isidore's.

The area was largely spared, said Jim Stitt, the group's president. However, he said, it is one of the areas where residents from devastated areas are heading.

It was Partners With Haiti that brought Nikenson Cenatus, 17, to St. Petersburg in October for surgery.

Gabrielle Berthelot, 86, who had recently returned from a sister's funeral in Massachusetts, willingly gave him a temporary home.

Now, the Haitian-born woman grieves again.

"She's had two blows, one after the other. She looks frail and tired,'' her daughter Micki Morency said.

But with the teenager's surgery scheduled for Monday, the St. Joseph's Catholic Church parishioner believes her focus should be on him.

"Nikenson is already here,'' she said.

"He needs my help and I'm going to do whatever I need to do.''

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2283.

to help

St. Petersburg Islamic Center

Haiti Relief Fund, P.O Box 53001, St. Petersburg, FL 33747

Partners With Haiti

1800 12th St. N

St. Petersburg, FL 33704

Hope for Haiti concert

6 p.m. Sunday, Northeast Presbyterian Church, 4400 Shore Acres Blvd. NE, St. Petersburg;

call (727) 526-6083

St. Matthew's Episcopal Church

Special service of prayer, 11 a.m. Saturday St. Matthew's Episcopal Church, 738 Pinellas Point Drive S, St. Petersburg, FL 33705. Send donations to Haiti Mission Committee.

Holy Family Catholic Church

Haiti Earthquake Relief

200 78th Ave. NE, St. Petersburg, FL 33702

Union for Reform Judaism (Haiti Relief)

633 Third Avenue 7th Floor

New York, NY 10017

United Synagogue of Conservative Judasim

www.uscj.org/donate/relief

Pinellas congregations rally for Haitian quake victims 01/19/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 19, 2010 5:47pm]

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