Saturday, January 12th marked the 3rd anniversary of the devastating magnitude 7.0 earthquake that struck Haiti at 4:53pm. The epicenter of that earthquake was in the town of Leogane, approximately 16 miles southwest of Port-au-Prince. Two weeks later, over 50 aftershocks reaching a magnitude 4.5 or greater had been recorded. Much of Port-au-Prince was damaged or leveled.
Saturday, January 12th 2013 became a day of remembrance for those of us working at St Luke’s, St Damien’s and FWAL.
The day started with the children who live at the orphanage at FWAL walking in a processional from the orphanage to the chapel at St. Damien’s. When mass began, Father Rick delivered the mass mostly in Creole but recited portions of the mass in English and Italian as well. I was somewhat surprised to see that this would not be a funeral mass as no bodies or caskets were present. It turned out, I was wrong.
For the second morning in a row, we had an unexpected arrival of a casket. My initial reaction was “this seems cruel in front of all of these children”. Thinking about it later, I realized many of these children have already experienced death and loss all too early in their lives. The family was also present this time, so the mass turned from a remembrance mass into a funeral service. However, Father Rick’s homily centered almost entirely around the anniversary of the earthquake.
Father Rick’s homily was great, but there was a particular moment that I found fascinating. He began discussing the chapel. On one side of the chapel, there are five crosses, dedicated to five nuns who died in the earthquake at the original St. Damien’s in Petionville. On the other side of the chapel, the first five victims of the cholera epidemic are buried. These ten individuals are a constant reminder of how much has changed in Haiti since the earthquake. The sisters were buried at the chapel because their mother house had also been destroyed during the earthquake.
Outside of the chapel is a large bell (it honestly looks like the Liberty Bell), that was recovered from the mother house of the sisters that worked in Petionville. The bell was brought to St Damien’s for safe keeping, so that looters would not steal the bell, and remains sitting on the ground. The bell serves as a silent reminder of all those that died in the earthquake, and will be returned to the sisters once their order has been restored. Finally, Father Rick turned to the church itself and noted that the church itself is broken and on crutches.
Although it’s not obvious, the mural in the back of the chapel, which seems to integrate so well into the rest of the chapel, is actually not painted on stone but rather on wood. During the earthquake, the rose window and the back of the chapel suffered significant damage. Wooden buttresses were used to support the church for quite some time, until this solution was devised. And what Father Rick then said was absolutely incredible to me. With so many people in the country left homeless, the chapel would not be rebuilt until everyone in Haiti has a home. The broken chapel serves as a reminder that there is much more work to be done, that the promised recovery has yet to fully materialize.
Following mass at St. Damien’s, we ventured into Port-au-Prince to attend a national remembrance mass outside of the old Cathedral. This was really our first view of “downtown” Port-au-Prince. Chaotic would be an understatement. We definitely saw some tent cities on our drive.
When we finally arrived at the Cathedral, there were hundreds of Haitians attending the mass. My understanding is that the Cathedral won’t be rebuilt, but is to serve as a lasting testament to the destructive power of Mother Nature. I have to admit, there was something enormously beautiful about the remains of the former Cathedral. You could tell that it was once a magnificent structure, reduced to a shadow of it’s former self by the earthquake. But here, in the spiritual center of Port-au-Prince, were a people gathered together to remember a horrific day and to continue on the long road of recovery.