Haitians Turn To Mass For Comfort

More relief supplies are arriving in Haiti on Sunday as part of the international response to last Tuesday's devastating earthquake in the Caribbean nation. While relief is getting into the country, it's not getting out as quickly as many organizations say it is needed in the capital and beyond. In Port-au-Prince today, about 100 residents showed up for Mass at the remains of the city's cathedral.

GUY RAZ, host:

But first to Haiti and another Sunday service.

Unidentified Group: (Singing in foreign language)

RAZ: Thousands attended mass in Port-au-Prince today outside that city's shattered main cathedral. Priests offered communion in the street beside the remains of that church.

NPR's Jason Beaubien was there and sent us this report.

Unidentified Group: (Singing in foreign language)

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

JASON BEAUBIEN: Most of the congregation had slept outside last night, in parks, churchyards and other open spaces after their homes were destroyed in the earthquake. About 100 people gathered in a street with the wreckage of the once grand Our Lady of Assumption Cathedral behind them. Several thick exterior walls of the building are still standing. An image of Jesus in a huge stained glass window somehow remains intact.

Father Eric Toussaint gave the sermon through a megaphone.

Reverend ERIC TOUSSAINT: (Foreign language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: Even if our cathedral falls, even if many buildings in our country collapse, it doesn't mean that the country is destroyed, Father Toussaint told the crowd on the pavement. It doesn't mean that our church is destroyed. It doesn't mean that our community is destroyed. The church is us, and we are the church.

The quake killed tens of thousands of people, including the archbishop of Port-au-Prince. Looking around this devastated city, with its shattered buildings and displaced people, many residents say it is destroyed. Some even say they've lost faith.

Just before the service, Louis Shaw Wistaux(ph) is weeping in front of the cathedral.

Ms. LOUIS SHAW WISTAUX: (Foreign language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: Speaking to our translator, Wistaux says this church was where she used to come to get her strength.

Ms. WISTAUX: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Woman: She said she doesn't know how she will survive because she's in the street. She doesn't have anywhere else to go, anyplace to pray.

BEAUBIEN: Wistaux lost her house and four members of her family in the temblor and says she's now living, like so many others, outside.

Father Toussaint says this is why he decided to hold mass out in the street, to bring a displaced congregation back together.

Unidentified Group: (Singing in foreign language)

BEAUBIEN: The residents raised their voices, as well as their arms, up towards the United Nations and U.S. helicopters that are finally ferrying relief supplies into Port-au-Prince. When the father told the congregation to greet their neighbors, the Haitians also clasped hands with the foreign reporters and photographers who were there to work. Neighbors hugged neighbors who they hadn't seen since the quake. And for a moment, they could have been in any church instead of in a decimated city with the stench of death all around them.

Reverend EDWARD SAINT LOUIS(ph): (Foreign language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: A second priest, Father Edward Saint Louis, said the situation is hard for us. Most of you don't have a house anymore. Even if you have something called a house, you're afraid to get inside of it. But he called on the residents of Port-au-Prince to not give up hope.

Rev. SAINT LOUIS: (Foreign language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: It could happen that you will lose faith, Father Saint Louis said. People may say they don't want to serve God anymore because where was he when this happened to us? But know that there's nothing that happens in this life that doesn't have a meaning.

Rev. SAINT LOUIS: (Foreign language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: Father Saint Louis ended the service by saying that he can't wish them a nice day or a pleasant Sunday. He said he can only tell them to be strong.

Unidentified Group: (Singing in foreign language)

BEAUBIEN: Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Port-au-Prince.

Unidentified Group: (Singing in foreign language)

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