Haiti quake: Mourning the dead

Photo by Sara A. Fajardo/Catholic Relief Services


Available in French

By Mathilde Magnier, Caritas Communications Officer in Port-au-Prince

A month after the earthquake that devastated the country, Haitians remembered their dead with three days of mourning and fasting.

From dust till dawn in Port-au-Prince, the loudspeakers blasted gospel, sermons and prayers in a strange atmosphere of joy, despair and reverence. In this deeply religious country, Catholics, Protestants and followers of voodoo join in the same celebrations, their arms raised to the heavens.

In the shattered capital, the main places of worship have been destroyed, forcing people to organize ceremonies in the city’s waste grounds, schoolyards or temporary shelter camps such as Petionville Club or the Champ de Mars. In the streets solemn mourning processions follow groups of people openly grieving. Women are dressed in white, children wear their best clothes and men have tied black armbands of mourning around their arms. Those who can walk help the injured in their wheelchairs and support those hobbling on crutches. Some sing and dance while others are prostrate. The crowd is so dense it is difficult to know who believes in what and who prays to who.

“These are difficult days. As Haitians we have to mourn our dead together “, explains Lérénie. She has joined thousands of faithful gathered on the steps of the destroyed cathedral on Friday, at a memorial Mass celebrated by Fr Serge Chadic, Director General of Caritas Haiti. Sitting on a piece of rubble in the middle of the crowd, the young woman holds her 4-month old baby in her arms. She lost her husband and her two brothers in the earthquake. More than ever, she feels she has to cling to her faith. “That and my boy are all I have left,” she says, looking at her little one.

Janel was lucky and he knows it. All his family members have survived the quake, but he says it is essential for him to be here. “I must support those who are suffering.” “We were all deeply affected by the quake, we must help each other. That is why I am here. ”

Ever since the beginning of this long weekend of mourning, the city is quiet. Time has stopped in the different parts of Port-au-Prince. The stores, gas stations or banks have closed down. Even the roads, usually very crowded, have been emptied to make way for the processions. But despite the circumstances, no one forgets the urgency of the situation.



Haïti pleure ses morts

Depuis trois jours, Haïti pleure ses morts. Trois jours de deuil et de jeûne entre vendredi et dimanche au cours desquels les survivants commémorent la mémoire de ceux qui, depuis un mois, ne sont plus.

A Port-au-Prince, du soir au matin, dans un brouhaha incessant de chants, prières, et prédications, les hauts-parleurs entonnent sur fond d’hymne et de gospel la litanie du dernier adieu. Atmosphère contrastée où liesse et désespoir se mêlent dans le plus grand recueillement. Vision étrange que celle de ce pays profondément religieux, où catholiques, protestants et adeptes du vaudou se retrouvent dans une même danse de célébration, les bras tendus vers le ciel.

Dans la capitale dévastée, les principaux lieux de culte ont été détruits alors les fidèles s’organisent. Terrains vagues, camps d’hébergements provisoires comme celui de Pétionville Club ou du Champ de Mars, cours d’écoles…les rassemblements et cérémonies se multiplient dans tous les lieux ouverts. Dans la rue, les processions et les marches funèbres se succèdent. Les femmes sont vêtues de blanc, les enfants portent leurs habits de fête et les hommes ont noué le brassard noir du deuil autour de leur bras. Les plus forts soutiennent les plus faibles, poussent les chaises roulantes des blessés, aident les handicapés sur leurs béquilles. Certains chantent et dansent, quand les autres restent prostrés. Dans toute cette effervescence, difficile de s’y retrouver, de savoir qui est qui et qui prie quoi. Mais est ce vraiment important ?

« Ce sont des jours difficiles, il faut que nous les passions côte à côte. Nous les Haïtiens devons pleurer ensemble les disparus », m’explique simplement Lérénie, venue grossir le rang des milliers de fidèles réunis sur le parvis de la cathédrale détruite vendredi 12 au matin, à l’occasion de la messe de commémoration célébrée par le père B. Chadik, directeur général de la Caritas Haïti. Assise sur un morceau de gravas, au milieu de la foule, la jeune femme tient son petit de 4 mois dans les bras. Dans le seïsme, elle a perdu son mari et ses deux frères alors plus que jamais, elle se raccroche à sa foi. « Avec lui, c’est tout ce qu’il me reste », me dit elle en pointant son bébé du regard. Janel a été plus chanceux, et il en est conscient. Tous les membres de sa famille ont survécu au tremblement de terre, mais il lui semble indispensable d’être là, avec les siens, et de soutenir ses « amis qui souffrent ». « Nous sommes tous touchés, nous devons être solidaires les uns des autres. C’est pour cela que je suis là ».

Depuis le début de ce long week end de deuil, la ville tourne au ralenti et semble hors du temps. Les magasins ont fermé, les services se sont arrêtés, même les routes, d’ordinaire très encombrées, se sont vidées pour laisser la place aux processions. Mais en dépit des circonstances, personne n’oublie l’urgence de la situation.

1 Comment

Filed under Conflicts and Disasters, Emergencies, Emergencies in Haiti, Haiti, Latin America

One response to “Haiti quake: Mourning the dead

  1. It is unfortunate that it takes a dramatic event such as an earthquake or a tsunami to focus the world’s attention. Millions of people die needlessly from extreme poverty every year, and yet there is no concentrated effort to save them. A large part of the Haitian population was living in poverty before the earthquake hit. When disaster struck, the death toll was driven up because of the poverty that already existed. But in the weeks before the tragedy there was no coordinated effort to save the lives of Haitians. We gave no thought to the orphans. There was no star studded telethon to solicit donations to provide food, water and medical care to the region. Haiti was a place many people could not locate on a map. But the Haitians were already suffering. They lived in squalor and filth. They lived with hunger and disease. They tried to survive on less than two dollars a day. They lived in makeshift shelters. They drank unsafe water. They were ravaged by HIV/AIDS. And they were ignored……After the dust settles on the earthquake, we can’t forget Haiti. They will need our help for years to come. We have to make the long term financial commitment to help them rebuild their country and their lives.

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