Thursday, January 14, 2010

"We Are Called... To Be a Light"

The church's relief push might be well afoot across the globe... but with their hearts especially pointed toward home following yesterday's quake, for many Haitian expats, the priority went to prayer.

Earlier tonight, a Mass in Miami's Little Haiti drew a crowd of over 1,000, and the local Herald delivered a moving account:
The congregation cried together and let out shouts of despair in the aftermath of the the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that rocked Port-au-Prince on Tuesday, destroying homes and government buildings and taking the lives of untold numbers of the city's residents.

The worshipers put their hands on their hearts as they sang a traditional song about God lifting them up through hard times.

They comforted strangers, bound by a call for solidarity with those who still live in the land they left.

All shared the frustration of not being able to reach a mother or sister or cousin, calling at different times only to receive no answer. One woman, Noelcina Augustin, held a picture of her daughter and granddaughter in her hands, tears streaming down her face as she prayed that they would be found.

Augustin knew that while some must be alive, thousands may already be dead. That pain, for many, seemed too familiar. They asked why.

``I don't want you to attribute what is happening in Haiti to be a punishment from God,'' affirmed the Rev. Reginald Jean-Mary.

Jean-Mary encouraged the congregation to hold onto the same thing that carried them through Hurricane Jeanne in 2004, political unrest and a punishing trifecta of storms in 2008: hope.

``We are witnessing the death of our brothers and sisters,'' Jean-Mary said. ``But we are called to reaffirm our commitment to be a light in the darkness, a shoulder for those in need of our help . . . to cry with those who are crying.''

Jean-Mary also called on the Obama administration to grant Temporary Protective Status to Haitians, which allows allow illegal immigrants to remain in the United States. This would allow them to help sustain their families back home, he said. He made the plea in both English and Creole. Both times, the congregation shouted ``Amen!''

``This year was supposed to be the year we start building Haiti,'' said worshiper Neolie Lebrun, 36, who has not yet been able to get in touch with her brother. ``And now, with all this, it's totally discouraging. But I'm not going to say this is the end. We still have hope that Haiti will stand on its feet again.''
While Miami's Haitian community -- numbered at some 200,000 -- is the nation's second-largest diaspora hub, in New York (home to some 400,000 expats) a noontime Mass was likewise offered at St Patrick's Cathedral by the city's retired archbishop, Cardinal Edward Egan.

Buried beneath St Pat's high altar is Pierre Toussaint (1766-1853), a freed Haitian slave who emigrated to Manhattan, where he became known for exceptional charity to orphans, the poor and unemployed.

His cause for beatification championed by the late Cardinal John O'Connor -- who had his remains moved to the cathedral crypt in 1990 -- Touissant was declared venerable in 1993.

SVILUPPO: In one of the day's more noteworthy interventions, Bishop Thomas Wenski of Orlando -- who ministered both in Haiti and to the diaspora in his native Miami -- taped a video statement of solidarity in Haitian Creole.

Two other Stateside prelates are known to be fluent in the language: Boston's Cardinal Sean O'Malley, who issued a plea for aid in English earlier in the day, and the lone Haitian on the American bench: Brooklyn Auxiliary Guy Sansaricq, who'll celebrate a memorial Mass Friday night in the "City of Churches."

PHOTO: Getty