LIANE HANSEN, Host:
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: Juliette Tassy has gone to Mass here all her life.
KASTE: (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?
KASTE: (Foreign language spoken)
KASTE: The priest at the cathedral, Edwino St. Louis, tells the faithful not to interpret the quake as divine retribution.
F: (Foreign language spoken)
KASTE: If we say our sin caused the earthquake, does that mean there's 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.
KASTE: 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.
KASTE: 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.
KASTE: Everything in nature is excellent. We feel that God is in nature, like nature is in God.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
KASTE: (Singing) My comfort, my shelter...
KASTE: Ten weeks later, her leg is healed, though she walks with a limp. Does she ever ask God why this happened to her?
KASTE: (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).
KASTE: I questioned God when my husband died. I said, God, why? Why did you do that?
KASTE: 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).
KASTE: Lot of questions. Lot of questions. Why did it happen? And why I'm 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.
KASTE: If you still are alive, it's because you have something to do on this earth, now.
KASTE: Martin Kaste, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.