Haitians crowd into churches for national day of mourning

Thousands of Haitians crowded into churches in the capital yesterday for a national day of mourning a month after the magnitude-7.0 earthquake killed more than 200,000 people.

Parishioners filled churches in Port-au-Prince’s Petionville suburb and set up loudspeakers so those in the streets could follow. Religious leaders gathered for an ecumenical ceremony near Haiti’s shattered National Palace to pay their respects to the dead.

Hymns and gospel music pumped throughout the city’s landscape of flattened concrete and sloping buildings.

The Roman Catholic archbishop of Port-au-Prince, Joseph Serge Miot, was among those killed in the January 12 quake.

Leaders from all of Haiti’s major religions took part in the ceremony, but it was only at the last minute that voodoo priests were included.

Since the quake, some voodoo followers have converted to Christianity, some enticed by steady aid flows through evangelical missions, others out of a fear of God.

“The earthquake scared me,” said Veronique Malot, a 24-year-old who said she joined an evangelical church two weeks ago when she found herself living in one of the city’s outdoor camps. “Voodoo has been in my family but the government isn’t helping us. The only people giving aid are the Christian churches.”

Voodoo evolved in the 17th century when the French brought slaves to Haiti from West Africa. Slaves forced to practice Catholicism remained loyal to their African spirits in secret by adopting Catholic saints to coincide with African spirits.

Since the quake, Scientologists, Mormons, Baptists, Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses and other missionaries have flocked to Haiti in droves – feeding the homeless, treating the injured and preaching the Gospel in squalid camps where a million people now live.

The US Agency for International Development channels hundreds of millions of dollars in overseas aid each year through faith-based groups, though there is no definitive tally of how much of the aid for Haiti comes through Christian groups.

The government has said it planned to set up large screens at some of the homeless camps throughout the city so those living there could follow it. It also urged people to wear either black or white to show respect for the dead.

Yesterday’s remembrance comes after the first heavy rain since the earthquake brought new misery to Haitians.

The downpour on Thursday served as a warning of the coming rainy season and the need to provide adequate shelter for an estimated 1.2 million still sleeping in the streets.

Haitian authorities have warned the rainy season is now the greatest looming threat facing the impoverished Caribbean country.


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