Haitians Remember Quake Victims, Consider Future

  • Haitians gather in prayer near the destroyed National Palace in the capital of Port-au-Prince on Wednesday, one year after the earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people.
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    Haitians gather in prayer near the destroyed National Palace in the capital of Port-au-Prince on Wednesday, one year after the earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people.
    David Gilkey/NPR/NPR
  • A Haitian woman holds her son in the front of the destroyed Catholic Church, Our Lady of Assumption, in downtown Port-au-Prince.
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    A Haitian woman holds her son in the front of the destroyed Catholic Church, Our Lady of Assumption, in downtown Port-au-Prince.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • Girls play amid the rubble at Our Lady of Assumption Catholic Church on Wednesday.
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    Girls play amid the rubble at Our Lady of Assumption Catholic Church on Wednesday.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • Memorial services are being held throughout Port-au-Prince — and all of Haiti — to mark the earthquake's one-year anniversary.
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    Memorial services are being held throughout Port-au-Prince — and all of Haiti — to mark the earthquake's one-year anniversary.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • On Tuesday, women distribute wreathes at the mass graves near Titanyen, Haiti, where tens of thousands of people were buried.
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    On Tuesday, women distribute wreathes at the mass graves near Titanyen, Haiti, where tens of thousands of people were buried.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • Parishioners from the Saint Louis King of France Catholic Church in Port-au-Prince dedicate a monument on the site of the mass graves Tuesday. Memorial services were held there Tuesday and Wednesday.
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    Parishioners from the Saint Louis King of France Catholic Church in Port-au-Prince dedicate a monument on the site of the mass graves Tuesday. Memorial services were held there Tuesday and Wednesday.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • A priest spreads holy water at the site of the mass graves Tuesday.
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    A priest spreads holy water at the site of the mass graves Tuesday.
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  • Events at the mass graves will culminate with a moment of silence Wednesday at the time when the earthquake struck.
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    Events at the mass graves will culminate with a moment of silence Wednesday at the time when the earthquake struck.
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  • Thousands of people gather at the site of the mass graves Tuesday to prepare the memorial for Wednesday's service and moment of silence.
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    Thousands of people gather at the site of the mass graves Tuesday to prepare the memorial for Wednesday's service and moment of silence.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • Tents and a destroyed church are seen from above in Port-au-Prince, a year after the earthquake.
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    Tents and a destroyed church are seen from above in Port-au-Prince, a year after the earthquake.
    David Gilkey/NPR

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Several thousand people gathered in front of the collapsed main Catholic cathedral in Port-au-Prince Wednesday for a Mass to mark the one-year anniversary of the 7.0 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people.

"We are here to remember the victims of the earthquake," said Cardinal Robert Sarah. "The lives, the wealth, the properties we lost."

The cardinal, who had been sent by Pope Benedict, praised the heroic acts of Haitians one year ago as they helped to pull their fellow citizens from the rubble. But Sarah also criticized government corruption and said that money is blinding Haitians and that young people are being tempted by power instead of education.

"As Pope John Paul II said here in 1983," he warned, "something must change in this country."

He called on Haitians to be brave, work together and not give up as they enter the second year of recovery from the devastating earthquake.

The service was held under several large white tents that in another setting might have sheltered a wedding or a garden party. Much of Haiti's elite, with the notable exception of President Rene Preval, sat in plastic chairs near the makeshift altar.

Mirlande Manigat, the presidential candidate who by some counts got the most votes in November's election, repeatedly wiped tears from her eyes.  Throughout the Mass, bursts of wailing punctuated the air from different places in the crowd.

Monsignor Louis Kebreau, the president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Haiti, said Haitians must unite for a single cause. "Today must mark the true reconstruction and healing of the country," Kebreau said.

A Year Of Challenges: Haiti After The Quake

After the service, dozens of people crowded in front of the cathedral's towering statue of Jesus on the cross that somehow survived the quake.  Hands raised to the heavens, many with their eyes closed, they swayed from side to side while chanting, "There's nothing that God can't do."

Altagrace Charlotin, 39, sat on a pile of rubble in front of what used to be one of the stately wooden doors of the church.

"I don't think things are getting better because, if you look around, the population is still under the tents. Like I said to people, get yourself out of this. Don't wait for the government or international groups to come," she said. "Just like me, I fixed my home myself. Did what I had to do. Even though I don't have the means to provide for myself, at least I repaired my home and I have a place to stay."

There were numerous memorial services and Masses across the Haitian capital. But for many people, this anniversary is as much about this moment as it is about what happened a year ago.

At the Golf Course camp, Boncon Coulange runs a small shop from a stand in front of his shack. He sells cold drinks, canned milk, cigarettes.

Coulange says things are getting worse in Haiti. He says the most difficult thing is not knowing when he will be able to move.

"Here they've set up hospitals so we can receive some health care," he says. "They give us water, which is good. But living under the tarps is difficult. It makes us sick."

He says things are becoming permanent in the camps. There are drainage canals and dirt streets. And all this makes him question whether he and his family will ever be able to leave.

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