LIANE HANSEN, host:

Perhaps nowhere in the Christian world will Easter be observed more intensely this year than in Haiti. For the Western hemisphere's poorest country, January's earthquake was an especially cruel blow.

NPR's Martin Kaste asked several Haitians how suffering has challenged their faith.

MARTIN KASTE: One Haitian told me that his people are religious about religion, and it's true. On Sundays you see them, all dressed up and picking their way through the rubble on their way to church.

(Soundbite of singing)

KASTE: Of course, these days church is outdoors. This is the Sunday morning Mass in front of the ruins of the Port-au-Prince Cathedral. The great stained glass window over the entrance is still mostly intact, but now, with the building just a shell, the sunlight streams from the inside out.

Juliette Tassy has gone to Mass here all her life.

Ms. JULIETTE TASSY: (Through Translator) It's really a catastrophe when I'm seeing the cathedral in this state. But if you look at the cross, it didn't fall, it stayed up. Almost all the Catholic churches that collapsed, the cross in front is still standing. It means something. It means that we need to keep our faith.

KASTE: After the Mass, Tassy and her Bible study group meet under a tree. Lately, they've wrestled with a timeless theological problem: Is God responsible for natural disasters?

Mr. JUNIOR MIRACLE: (Foreign language spoken)

KASTE: A man named Junior Miracle - yes, thats his real name - recalls the Gospel story of Jesus commanding a storm to be silent. He thinks God could silence an earthquake, too. But he says God let it happen, in Miracle's words, because he wanted to test our faith.

The priest at the cathedral, Edwino St. Louis, tells the faithful not to interpret the quake as divine retribution.

Father EDWINO ST. LOUIS (Pastor, Port-au-Prince Cathedral): (Foreign language spoken)

KASTE: If we say our sin caused the earthquake, does that mean theres more sin in Chile, since their quake was bigger? The priest answers his own question by saying Catholics should not, in his words, mix the spiritual with the natural. But even he, a few minutes later, says it was God's grace that the earthquake happened in the afternoon, when fewer people were indoors. The significance of the earthquake raises questions in other religious settings.

Mr. MAX BEAUVOIR (Voodoo Priest): We are in the room of reception of the voodoo people.

KASTE: This is Max Beauvoir, probably Haiti's most prominent voodoo priest. His temple is hung with photos of visiting dignitaries. Leaning back in his chair, he says voodooists believe in God, but they don't think he causes earthquakes.

Mr. BEAUVOIR: God has never pretended to be able to manage the Earth. In fact, only Christians believe that - that God manage the Earth.

KASTE: Instead, Beauvoir says, God created the laws of nature and then set the world in motion. And accidents, such as this earthquake, are out of his control. Beauvoir says the hundreds of thousands of dead will be reincarnated, and nature shouldn't be blamed for killing them.

Mr. BEAUVOIR: Everything in nature is excellent. We feel that God is in nature, like nature is in God.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WILNANDE MONPREMIER: (Singing) My comfort, my shelter...

KASTE: Wilnande Monpremier(ph) sings a hymn she learned from Protestant missionaries. A devout woman, she was on the third floor of a Lutheran church school when it collapsed in the quake. Finding herself trapped under rubble with a broken leg, she says thoughts of Jesus' suffering on Calvary made her pain easier to bear.

Ten weeks later, her leg is healed, though she walks with a limp. Does she ever ask God why this happened to her?

Ms. MONPREMIER: (Through Translator) I can't ask myself that question, because if I'm doing so, I'm offending God.

KASTE: It's the confidence of a young believer. You get a more searching answer from an older woman, Monpremier's aunt, Jeanne Louis(ph).

Ms. JEANNE LOUIS: I questioned God when my husband died. I said, God, why? Why did you do that?

KASTE: Louis' husband was a Lutheran pastor. Over the course of 30 years, the couple built the now-ruined school, as well as churches and an orphanage also damaged.

But he didn't die in the quake. He survived that, only to be shot by thieves just two weeks ago. At the time of his death, Pastor Doris Jean Louis(ph), was still trying to help his congregation understand the earthquake, says Guy Francisque(ph).

Mr. GUY FRANCISQUE: Lot of questions. Lot of questions. Why did it happen? And why Im still alive, while my father or my brother or my wife has died? You know, and people have many, so many questions about the earthquake.

KASTE: So the pastor prepared a sermon - one of his last - to try to answer some of those questions. Francisque recalls that the message was simple.

Mr. FRANCISQUE: If you still are alive, it's because you have something to do on this earth, now.

KASTE: A message of hope, but also a burden in a country where the living have much to do.

Martin Kaste, NPR News.

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