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(RNS) The most populous diocese in the Episcopal Church doesn’t sit along the Eastern seaboard; it’s not a notch on the Bible Belt; and it lies nearly 3,000 miles from California’s golden shores.
Actually, it’s in Haiti, a fact that escapes even many Episcopalians. Asked how many members of her church know about the Diocese of Haiti’s leading status, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said, “Actually, too few.”
But last month’s devastating earthquake may change that, as Haiti has moved to the center of the world’s attention. Recently returned from a pastoral visit to the Caribbean island on Monday (Feb. 8), Jefferts Schori would like to keep the focus there.
Haitians are still struggling to meet basic needs like food, shelter and water, all while caring for or mourning loved ones pulled from the rubble, the presiding bishop said in an interview. Rebuilding the country — and the diocese — will likely take a decade or longer. The death toll, according to Haiti’s government, is about 230,000 people.
“The destruction on the ground is as bad as you have seen on the news,” Jefferts Schori said in a video message to Episcopalians. Not one diocesan building in the capital city of Port-au-Prince is usable. They are either dust or perilously close to falling. Maintaining focus on Haiti’s long-term needs will be a challenge for an American society that quickly moves from one issue to another, the presiding bishop said.
The Episcopal Diocese of Haiti is no Johnny-come-lately in the 110-diocese strong Episcopal Church. With roots as a mission church, the diocese will celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2011. And while an estimated 80 percent of Haiti’s population is Catholic, Episcopalians count about 100,000 fellow members in 170 congregations, and maintain a network of 250 schools. The next largest Episcopal diocese is Texas, with about 80,000 members, according to church statistics.
After seeing the diocese’s destroyed Cathedrale Sainte Trinite, Jefferts Schori told Haiti’s Bishop Jean Zache Duracin he should skip Lent this year.
“I meant that Lent begins next week, and it seemed inappropriate to focus on penitence and the kinds of observations that many Christians normally take up in Lent,” Jefferts Schori said in an interview. “The people of Haiti are living through Lent right now. They experienced Good Friday in the earthquake and its aftermath.”
The presiding bishop said she sees signs of hope in the willingness of Haitians to carry one another’s burdens and in the respect of rescue workers who forbear using large equipment for fear of defiling bodies buried beneath the rubble.
Still, in the earthquake’s aftermath many believers, including Christians, have struggled with trying to understand God’s role in the suffering and deaths of so many people.
“Many Christians proclaim a God who is willing to be vulnerable enough to join us in human flesh and live as one of us,” said Jefferts Schori. “This is less of a triumphalist God … but it is a God who leads us with hope even through the loss of everyone and everything that we have judged of value in this life.”
Copyright 2010 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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