By JEAN DRISKELL, Special To The Bulletin | Published January 21, 2010
The people came into the church quietly. There were greetings and hugs—hugs of condolence and hugs of comfort. It had been two days since the 7.0 earthquake leveled Port-au-Prince and devastated the island nation of Haiti.
The Haitian community of Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Decatur, other members of the parish, and the Archdiocese of Atlanta came to celebrate a Mass on Thursday, Jan. 14. The pastor, Father Eric Hill, celebrated the Mass, assisted by Deacon Alfred Mitchell.
The Mass was said predominately in Creole and French, the languages of Haiti, with some English. About 200, mostly Haitian, attended the Mass. The monies collected in the offertory will go to Catholic organizations, earmarked for Haiti.
“For the people of Haiti, it may seem Jesus is asleep,” Father Hill said in his homily. “How could God allow this to happen? Why this earthquake in the most populated area? Why? The people of Haiti are already suffering in great poverty and undergoing such trials. Is God asleep?”
“No, God is not asleep!” he emphasized.
“A Christian believer is strengthened by the hope that God is always there,” he said. “When there is no light, only darkness. That God can bring us peace and give us the help we need to get us through any encounter.”
“Every Haitian in this room has lost someone, and that pain hurts,” he said. “No magic pill nor wand can take that hurt away.”
Father Hill said, “Watching the news gives me great hope. Everyone across this world is turning to provide relief to people who they never met—don’t know them nor their languages, but are reaching out to provide relief.”
“Why Haiti? Why Port-au-Prince? I have no answer,” he said. “God never sleeps. In times like these, when we experience pain, we ask where is he? Yet, when we turn to him, he gives us peace. He strengthens our faith. He gives us hope so we can always trust him.”
“We need to reach out to those who are suffering,” Father Hill said. “We need to go beyond a week lest we forget. May we not forget Haiti.”
Father Hill concluded, “We are brothers and sisters in Christ, no matter where we come from. We are children of God, Body of Christ. We are Church, around the table of Jesus. We are guided by him. He is the one who calms the seas in our lives.”
As Father Hill spoke, many people said “Amen” in agreement.
The closing hymn, “How Great Thou Art,” was sung in French and Creole, with others singing in English. The hymn had a powerful effect on many of the people. Several raised their arms in prayer and praise. Many became emotional and expressed it with tears. Others grieved.
The lights were dimmed in the church, and the Mass ended with a candlelight procession.
After Mass several people went back into the church to pray. One small group of women prayed the rosary. Some of the Haitian parishioners thanked non-Haitians who attended for supporting them by coming to the Mass.
“I couldn’t help but think about so many people, victims of the earthquake, and it reminded me of Hurricane Katrina and the poor … and what God is trying to tell us,” said Charles Prejean, director of the archdiocesan Black Catholic Ministry.
“The responses people are making toward the Haitians shows that we are all family. With God, we do a better job of taking care of each other. Before the earthquake, before Katrina, we haven’t been doing a good job. Both incidents uncovered the misery we try to cover up and ignore,” Prejean said.
“The Mass was great, very moving,” Olguin Laroche said, speaking with The Georgia Bulletin following the parish Mass on Sunday, Jan. 17. “People could have stayed at home. It was good they came out to pray. We are like a family, praying together, crying together, sharing our stories.”
“My brother, his wife and two children, uncles, aunts, and cousins are OK,” she said. “I heard from one of my uncles on Friday, and yesterday my brother called me. I have a cousin with a broken leg, but everyone is fine.”
Laroche’s cousin, Fabienne Guerrier, who was also at the Mass, said, “We needed the Mass last Thursday, and the support from the non-Haitian community that was there. We were the last family to leave the church. The atmosphere felt calming. We didn’t want to go home and hear bad news.”
“The sermon helped. It reinforced that God is never sleeping, always there. He will not give us something we cannot handle,” she said. “My dad called and had talked to my sister. Everyone is OK.”
Alberta Therlonge, who was a lector, had become overwhelmed with emotion after Thursday’s Mass.
“I had not heard from my siblings in Haiti,” she said. “I was not able to hear from my cousins, not knowing if they were still alive. I feel it’s just a bad dream I could not get out of. So unbelievable.”
“We have our faith,” she said, “to keep hope alive. I have now heard from my siblings. They are OK. I’m still trying to hear from my cousins. I keep our faith. God never leaves us.”
She said, “We turn to God for comfort and to bring us out of this situation. It will be a better tomorrow. We will be stronger. I saw some people on the news on the street thanking God and singing. Our hope is in God. God said he would restore our glory, lift us up, strengthen us.”