Easter joy comes in the midst of death

Haitian Episcopalians welcome risen Lord, pray for the future
April 5, 2010

An image gallery to accompany this story is here.

A spirit of resurrection was evident in Haiti's Episcopal churches from the capital city Port-au-Prince to the rural countryside during Holy Week and Easter.

"The devastating earthquake of January 12, 2010, does not stop us from singing in joy and gladness, 'Alleluia, He is risen' in this Easter season," Episcopal Diocese of Haiti Bishop Jean Zaché Duracin said in his Easter homily, which was read in every Haitian Episcopal Church congregation on Easter morning,

"Even though we are in trouble, we are not alone," Duracin said, calling on Haitians to move into what he has called a "new creation."

"We have to put our faith in action so that the Lord can come deliver us, because he is not far from us, he is in us and he is among us. He is suffering with us, so he can lift us up to rejoice. So we have to be just, we have to love one another, in solidarity, in fraternity, with respect for each other and with respect for our environment, for we cannot destroy God's marvelous creation."

Proclamations of resurrection in the midst of Haiti's devastation and challenging future echoed across the diocese. At St. Andre's Episcopal Church in Hinche, a central Haiti town of some 50,000 located about 80 miles northeast of the capital, organist and school headmaster Etienne Balde said "There is much joy here today. Jesus Christ is risen and we are celebrating."

Duracin preached his homily to several hundred people gathered in what he has been calling the diocese's open-air cathedral, a mostly roofed, wall-less structure of two-by-fours erected on the site of the wreckage of Holy Trinity Cathedral. The ruins of the cathedral are visible behind and to the right of the structure. To the left is an open space where the diocese's Holy Trinity school complex once stood, its ruins recently demolished and carted away.

The last body was removed from the school ruins in late March, according to the Rev. Lauren Stanley, Episcopal Church-appointed missionary in Haiti and Duracin's liaison in the U.S.

"In the midst of nothingness and devastation, the Haitians welcomed the risen Lord," Stanley told ENS in a telephone interview on Holy Monday April 5 as she drove to Cange for the diocese's annual synod, set for April 6-7.

Stanley returned to Haiti for Holy Week and Easter Week, celebrating her first Easter Eucharist in Haiti on April 4 at the St. James the Just Episcopal Church in Petionville.

"It was beautiful and holy and very hard all at the same time," she said. "The Haitians have known death intimately, and yet proclaimed the resurrection with both great joy and tears."

In his Easter homily, Duracin spoke of "the awful odors from the many bodies [that] have invaded us and invaded us again" and loss of Haiti's traditional mourning rituals in the aftermath of the quake.

"As we reflect on biblical themes such as repentance, conversion, forgiveness, we remember as well a relative, a friend, one who was close to us, all of whom, in most cases, were denied funeral ceremonies where we could say goodbye with human dignity," he said. "Thus, crossing the desert has been and still is long and extremely difficult."

The feeling of celebrating resurrection while walking through the desert was not limited to Haiti's Episcopalians, of course. On Good Friday, a procession of several hundred Roman Catholics paused to pray at the site of the diocese's Holy Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, which as was the case with their own Notre Dame cathedral, was reduced to a pile of rubble during the Jan. 12 magnitude-7 earthquake.

Setting up a portable altar, the officiant prayed while the faithful chanted and sang responses, holding rosaries aloft before they continued through the streets of Port-au-Prince.

Also at Holy Trinity on Good Friday, Duracin and other clergy preached on the Seven Last Words of Christ and venerated the cross.

The Rev. Pierre Auguste, rector of Paroisse Epiphanie in L'Acul in the Léogâne area, which was 85 percent destroyed by the earthquake, compared the earthquake to the Scriptural story of Jesus stilling the storm on the Sea of Galilee.

"I was with my family in the car, on the way to Léogâne," he recalled. "The car went up and down three times, and during that moment I experienced a moment like I imagine happened with the apostles when they were crossing the sea with Jesus. Peter saw Jesus coming and was very afraid because of the movement of the sea. But Jesus said 'take
heart, I am with you.'"

Auguste said the feeling remained after he arrived in Léogâne and learned several of his parishioners had died.

"We are in this world to share the glory of the Lord," he added. "I discovered the love of God in that event. Churches fall down, houses fall down, people die, but the love of God is still there, a known force. While on earth we share that, people continue to magnify God of love, love is I Jesus and it must continue among us."

Paroisse Epiphanie's building was destroyed, but the congregation meets on the site every Sunday, he said. The school, which had 124 primary students, is structurally unsound and unsafe, but Auguste hopes to restart classes within the next few weeks using tents.

Meanwhile, at St. Simeon Episcopal Church in Croix-de-Bouquets, about ten miles northeast of Port-au-Prince, the Rev. Frederic Menelas prepared family members and godparents for Easter vigil baptism, and organized a Holy Week youth festival and acolyte retreat for 60 young people. Menelas said he felt a spirit of resurrection throughout the church in Haiti.

"We are without a cathedral, our diocesan institutions have been destroyed, but even though the buildings are not here anymore, the church is still alive," he said.

About 65 miles further north in Hinche, the courtyard of St. Andre's buzzed with activity on Holy Saturday April 3, beginning with the sounds of choir rehearsals as early as 7 a.m.

Later in the day, the voices of participants in two retreats -- one for women's ministries and the other an acolyte festival -- could be heard raised in song.

During the vigil that evening, the Rev. Waldin DeCamps told a packed church that the good news of the resurrection was that they, too, could enjoy new beginnings and new life.

"As Christ is risen so we, too, can rise to a new way of thinking, a new way of reflecting, a new way of enlightenment … a rebirth to renew our daily life in the way we think and act and behave," said DeCamps, St. Andre's rector, who also oversees 14 mission congregations, and is training five seminarians, some of whom are assigned to the mission congregations near Hinche.

On Easter Sunday, St. Andre's three-hour service included worship in French and Creole with several guest choirs and bands. A bus from St. Matthias Church in Thomond arrived with about 50 people including the Union Brothers, guest singers and dancers who performed during the service.

At St. James the Just, Easter vigil was followed by an early Easter morning English Eucharist which was attended by many relief and aid workers from various denominations, Stanley said. That service was followed by a Eucharist in French.

As they celebrated, Haitians looked to the future. Each congregation took up a collection on Easter for the rebuilding of Holy Trinity Cathedral.

"Haitians are putting up the forward the first dollars for reconstruction of the cathedral," Stanley said, adding that the collections will be presented and tallied during the diocese's annual synod.

Echoing Duracin's call for solidarity and fraternity, Stanley said churches, aid organizations and all those who want to help Haiti rebuild have to cooperate.

"The problem is it's been more competition than it has been cooperation. It's the people at the bottom who have suffered from that," she said. "In this new creation, we're going to have to learn to cooperate on everything and if we do that, then the people's voice will be heard and then the people will be helped."

That help is desperately needed, Duracin said, describing in his homily that "with millions of people without proper shelter, without work, living in desperate conditions, the situation is truly lamentable."

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