Sunday Mass in Haiti Was About the Dead

Garry Pierre-Pierre*

HAVANA TIMES, Jan. 18  (IPS) — Rosemarie Tintin’s black hat and veil barely concealed the sorrow on her face.  She recently lost her entire family in Haiti’s devastating earthquake and the only place she could find solace was at her church.

But that too was hardly possible. Tintin was one of about 300 parishioners gathered in the courtyard of the Saint King of France Church wearing their Sunday best to attend Mass.

“Help me God,” she said. “Help me God.”

A hand-written note had replaced the glass marquee posting the time of the service. “The parish of Saint Louis advised all of its faithful that there will be a mass at 6:30 AM Sunday, Jan. 17, 2010. PS. There will be only one mass.  Thanks and courage,” it read.

This was not just a regular church service.  For one thing, Mass is usually celebrated in the church pews, not in the yard.  So it was on the first Sunday after an earthquake destroyed this city, survivors struggled to keep to their routine, including attending Mass.

“If you can be here today, we have to thank God because those who died did not do so because God doesn’t love them,” said one of the three priests who gave the eulogies.  “So let’s pray for them so their souls could rest in peace.”

Few houses of worship escaped the wrath of the tremor.  Sacred Heart, the National Cathedral, the Church of Christ… They are all in ruins. At Sacred Heart, the crucifix stands erect surrounded by debris from the fallen roof and walls of one of the most popular churches in Haiti.

“God is telling us something,” Robert Thomas said to no one in particular, as he stood in front of the church.

On Sundays, Haitians usually gather at home with family members, eating pumpkin soup and patties for brunch. But this Sunday, few people were able to manage such luxuries.

Since the earthquake hit on Tuesday, the days have seem like a blur to everyone and the easiness that is associated with the holy day has been a continuation of the macabre task of digging people out who are stuck under buildings.  The government has continued to bury bodies in mass graves, offending the sensibilities of many who feel that there should be a better way.

“Oh my God, look what’s going on,” said Gerard Thomas, as health officials removed a few bodies that were lined up along Canape Vert Road. “Look what we Haitians have become… some dogs are better than us.”

Prayer did not start on Sunday.  Throughout the week, impromptu Masses have taken place, with people giving thanks to God. Most of them feel ashamed for having survived the calamity that took the lives of neighbours, relatives and friends.

“My son was standing next to me and I tried to grab him,” said Thomas. “Then the building fell and I left. I got out and he’s dead.”

While some people found time for church, many simply were too shocked and dazed to remember that they should attend service in this deeply Catholic country.

“I forgot,” said Lionel Guillaume when asked whether he had gone to church Sunday morning.  “I don’t know what to think.”

*Special to IPS from The Haitian Times.