It’s happening right now in Haiti:
Mass at Port-au-Prince’s Sacred Heart Catholic church is held under a UNICEF tarp beside Coleman tents. Open-air, it’s conducted near the statue of the Virgin Mary, one of the few church treasures to survive the Jan. 12 earthquake.
“We don’t have anything else,” said Bertta Chery, who recently attended a service amid the ruins of the 105-year-old house of worship, one of Haiti’s most treasured. “We are all in the streets.”
With dozens of others, all dressed in their Sunday best, she prayed for the dead, for the living and — in a deeply faithful country where three out of five people are Catholic and most others are Protestant — for churches to rise again.
More than three weeks after disaster shattered Haitian life, the Archdiocese of Port-au-Prince, the U.S. Catholic church and the Vatican have quietly begun the task of rebuilding the Catholic church in Haiti, arguably the country’s hardest-hit institution. Churches of other denominations are also looking toward reconstruction.
Sacred Heart was among at least 60 Catholic churches that collapsed in the 7.0 quake that killed more than 100 nuns and priests and the top church leadership. It’s estimated that seven out of every 10 Catholic churches were lost. Damage estimates run in the tens of millions of dollars.
The earthquake is believed to be the most devastating natural disaster to hit a Catholic diocese, said Bishop Joseph Lafontant. With the death of the archbishop and vicar general of Port-au-Prince, Lafontant is now one of the church’s top leaders in Haiti.
“As for material things — we can rebuild,” he said last week during a break from a daylong meeting with surviving priests. “In lives, the archdiocese suffered.”
In a country where the government has always struggled to provide even the most basic services, the Catholic Church has always been a lifeline — it runs schools, hospitals, orphanages and charities.
“In Haiti, the church is like a central living womb for the community,” said the Rev. Reginald Jean-Mary of Miami’s Notre Dame d’Haiti church, who has been conducting prayers and officiating funerals at Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Church in Port-au-Prince.
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