Haiti There and Here

January 18, 2010 at 11:11 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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It’s difficult not to be thinking about Haiti these days, but when you live in the middle of Brooklyn, it’s downright impossible. My parish, Our Lady of Refuge, on Foster Avenue, has a substantial Haitian membership, and the pastor, Michael Perry, was on the verge of tears throughout the five o’clock Mass on Saturday.  At various parts of the liturgy he paused and commented in light of the disaster: it’s hard to sing a hymn of gratitude to God at a time like this, he told us, but it’s precisely now that we must do so. During the sermon he went a bit off the deep end about Pat Robertson’s statement that the earthquake was a result of Haitian sin, and then apologized to the congregation later. He also mentioned that a number of Haitian priests who stayed in the rectory from time to time died in the quake. And we prayed the Our Father on behalf of the Haitian dead who could no longer say it for themselves. I have rarely been more grateful to be part of Our Lady of Refuge.

An article in yesterday’s New York Times offers more detail about the suffering of members of a majority Haitian parish here in New York, St. Joachim and Anne in Queens. One thing that comes through clearly is that in this age of global travel, Haitians in New York and Haitians in Haiti are every bit as much connected to one another as, for example,  members of a family like mine in Philadelphia and New York are.  One person mentioned in the article had flown back to Haiti the day before the earthquake; a child’s mother lived in Queens, his father in Port au Prince. With connections like these, it almost seems that the earthquake took place here as well as in the Caribbean. 

It’s deeply moving to see the many ways in which individuals and groups are responding to this disaster. On all sides people are donating money, contributing desperately needed supplies, holding benefits, prayer services, you name it. A local bank, Astoria Savings and Loan, has a sign in the window announcing that it will match dollar for dollar any donation made to the Red Cross at one of its branches.

Still, I wonder a bit why it takes something like the Haitian earthquake of 2010 to get us mobilized. The situation of very many people in Africa, Asia, and Latin America is catastrophic day by day by day. A child dies of a water-borne disease every fifteen seconds in the Global South; this means a hundred and eighty such children died since I started writing this article. And then there’s out-and-out starvation to be considered. Some people do  work steadily to offset these and other forms of ongoing suffering. But by and large, it seems to take something really dramatic like an earthquakes or a tsunami to get us in gear…


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