Some 50 Catholic Haitian-Americans came to pray on the Jan. 12 anniversary of the earthquake that devastated their already devastated home island nation.
But they didn’t come to pray only for themselves and Haiti.
“We want to bring everything to the altar,” said Vesnel Francois, leader of the community that organized the special Mass at St. Anthony Parish in Kansas City Mo., as he also lead prayers for recent victims of disasters all over the world — 2001 terrorist attack victims, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami victims, the 2005 victims of Hurricane Katrina, the 2010 victims of the Indonesian tsunami, and the 2011 victims of flooding in Queensland, Australia, which was happening as they prayed.
If there is one thing that the people of Haiti understand, he said, it is suffering.
“The purpose is to remember we are all connected,” Francois said. “Today, we pay tribute to those who are suffering not only in Haiti, but to all who have died in disasters that happen at any time.”
The Mass they celebrated that evening was a symbolic funeral, even though there is yet no end to the suffering in Haiti.
An empty casket, loaned by Passantino Brothers Funeral Home, was draped in a Haitian flag, then covered with a white burial cloth, symbolizing all the some 250,000 who died within seconds of the earthquake, and in the year following from diseases including a cholera epidemic.
“In solidarity with our sisters and brothers in Haiti who died, and in solidarity with all who are still suffering with the lack of basic necessities, we offer our Eucharistic prayer,” said Benedictine Father Brendan Helbing, associate pastor of the parish, as he blessed the casket.
In his homily, he reminded the congregation that came through snow on a bitterly cold Wednesday night, that the celebration was more about life than death.
Telling a fable of Death, “born female and fully grown millions of years ago,” Father Helbing spoke of how Death lived a lonely life, watching everything die that she touched, until one day she saw a man on a cross, his eyes calling her forward.
“Death touched his cheek, and like all before him, he closed his eyes and became lifeless and cold,” Father Brendan said.
Death watched the man being taken down from the cross, cradled in his mother’s arms, then taken to a tomb in a cave.
Just before a huge stone was rolled to seal the cave, Death slipped inside.
On the following Sunday, some women went to the cave to attend the body. Neither the man, nor Death was inside, Father Brendan said.
“Since that Sunday, all who look at Death through the eyes of faith now look at it differently,” he said. “They know that love is life, and Death is the doorway to eternal life.”
Following the Mass, Francois told The Catholic Key that the situation in Haiti one year later is just as desperate as it was a year ago, despite a massive outpouring of support from around the world.
Hundreds of thousands are homeless, living in tent cities or in shelters built of whatever material they can find. Preventable diseases are rampant, Francois said, and there is virtually no government infrastructure to direct relief efforts.
“We failed to take advantage of this moment to unite the country and to use the ‘reset’ button to build something better,” Francois said. “Because of the lack of leadership, the humanitarian efforts around the world have had little effect. People are still fighting to survive.”
Francois said that Haiti’s problem isn’t just poverty.
“It is a matter of trust and leadership,” he said. “That is why we turn to the church. The church doesn’t have to do business as usual. We need to put faith in action, and we believe we can go through this and progress.
“We need your help, but nothing replaces your prayer to give strength to men, women and children, who are living everyday in uncertainty,” he said.
Vesnel Francois has co-founded the Lambdi Group to help parishes in the United States directly assist parishes in Haiti and provide other relief to Haiti. He can be contacted at [email protected].
Printed with permission from The Catholic Key, newspaper for the Diocese of Kansas City, Mo.