Saturday, January 23, 2010

Archbishop Killed in Haiti’s Earthquake Is Buried

By Damien Cave

Haitians gathered Saturday at the Champ de Mars in Port-au-Prince, above, for a day of mourning.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Hundreds of Haitians — many still bandaged, most in tears — gathered in the parking lot of the destroyed cathedral here Saturday for the funeral of the archbishop of Port-au-Prince, as the government declared that the search for survivors was coming to an end.

Since the earthquake, international rescue teams have saved 132 people from buildings across the city, according to the United Nations.

They have provided miraculous moments of joy during a tragedy whose full extent is just being determined — the most detailed hint at the death toll appeared in the government’s preliminary report on Saturday that more than 111,000 bodies had been registered and buried so far.

Now, with the window of survivability nearly shut for those who were trapped, Haitians are slowly accepting that they must mourn both the dead and the missing.

At the funeral for the archbishop, Msgr. Joseph Serge Miot, 63, priests and his relatives emphasized that his death was one among multitudes.

Revered as a humble servant of the poor, he died as so many others did: crushed by his own home.

The vicar general of the main cathedral in Port-au-Prince, Charles Benoit, died with him, and on Saturday the two clergymen lay in a pair of white caskets just a few hundred yards from the rubble that killed them.

“We still have so many Haitians who are suffering,” Joseph Lafontant, the auxiliary bishop of Port-au-Prince, said during the two hour service. “For anyone who has turned away from God, now is the time to return.”

The crowd had begun to gather just after sunrise. Before the service started, a procession of Haitians in their best available clothes approached the archbishop’s casket.

It was opened briefly, the crowd pushed forward, and a woman with large sunglasses and shiny black pumps wailed in grief.

The people said they would miss, most of all, Archbishop Miot’s inspiration.

Born in Jérémie, a town on Haiti’s western peninsula, he was known for fighting to make hospital care affordable, and for delivering rousing sermons that encouraged parishioners to never give up.

“He used to say, ‘Fight, fight, fight’ to improve your life,” said Lamona Eleassian, 68, sitting in a wooden pew salvaged from a nearby church.

“When he stopped preaching,” she said, “everyone clapped because they were so happy.”

She slapped her hands on her thighs and began to cry.

In front of her, President René Préval, in a dark suit, sat quietly. He did not speak at the service. Behind him, sunlight warmed the church’s rose window, its stained glass only partly shattered, its grandeur gone.

The replacement was a mishmash of simplicity. The only signs of adornment at the funeral were an Oriental rug on the pavement and the vestments of the bishops, their white and gold hats swaying like ships at sea.

The only shelter was a set of tents — some red and white, one blue and broken, another white with tan stripes — that seemed as thrown together as the broader church itself.

Even before the earthquake, the country’s Roman Catholic population had been shrinking — now an estimated 60 percent of Haitians identify with the church, down from 90 percent — and at the funeral, many of the local priests looked stunned and tired.

The Rev. Raphael Pierre Paul, 32, said that he planned to say his first Mass tomorrow, somewhere outside, because his own church in Port-au-Prince had collapsed.

“The church is completely on the ground,” he said. “The other priest died, along with six others.”

Some rubble piles are still being searched in Port-au-Prince, as rescue teams finish projects they started before the government’s declaration. But few miracles are expected.

For local Catholics, the momentum has shifted toward grief, and aid.

Words of encouragement came from abroad. Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, who flew to Haiti on a private plane owned by a friend, John J. Stollenwerk, told the crowd that American Catholics “are committed to doing everything we can.”

He said he would be visiting Catholic relief workers later in the day to encourage them and gain a greater understanding of what Haiti needed.

Bishop Lafontant, meanwhile, implored the country’s Christians to see the cataclysm as an opportunity for growth.

“God had something to say and he said it here,” the bishop said. “He did it because he wants Haiti to become a new country.”

For most, however, grief and exhaustion still reigned. As the hearse moved out of the parking lot, the sister of Vicar Benoit slapped the window, cried, and screamed.

Source: NyTimes

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