In the Midst of Haiti's Tragedy, Faith -- and Questions

Kristin Butler | Contributing Writer | Wednesday, January 27, 2010

In the Midst of Haiti's Tragedy, Faith -- and Questions

January 27, 2010

Anaika Saint Louis was 11 years old when the earthquake hit Haiti. Trapped in the rubble and loneliness that claimed the lives of 25 others, Anaika clung to life while family members worked over 48 hours to dislodge her right leg from underneath a massive piece of metal. Though she periodically cried from the pain, Anaika remained hopeful and optimistic, grateful she was still alive. When her family was able to transport her to the nearest emergency station, medics told her she might lose her feet. Anaika was undeterred. "Thank you, God, because he saved my life," she replied. "If I lose my feet, I always have my life."

But the first aid station to which her family had rushed her was unable to handle her wounds. Her family was told to take her to another hospital three hours away. But Aniaka didn't make it. She didn't even make it outside of the first aid center.

The 11-year-old died of injuries in her right leg, a death CNN anchor Anderson Cooper called, "a stupid death." Anaika's uncle said that his niece's last words were, "Mother, don't let me die."


It is stories like Anaika's that capture the grim agony, the desolation, the faith, the hope, the suffering and the anguish of Haiti after the earthquake. First sorrow, then a surge of hope accompanied by tremendous faith, then, bewilderingly - death.

It's all here in Haiti, mixed together in a baffling conglomeration. We've all seen the coverage. Bodies being pulled from the rubble, families mourning their loss, tears unending - and yet, open air worship services, women singing for joy at a saved life.

Then there is the violence. In Cite Soleil, one Haiti's most notorious slums, earthquake victims are fast becoming targets of gang violence. The hospital nearby is treating 2 to 3 gunshot victims a day. Area thugs threatened one man, forcing him to dismount his bicycle and kneel before they shot him - twice. In the hospital, his young nephew hovered, watchfully looking over him. "He is the only one left who loves me," he told BBC reporters. His father was killed in the earthquake. Why, for these victims, sorrow upon sorrow?

Yet in the midst of widespread devastation and pain, another story seems to be emerging: a story of unwavering faith.

BBC has reported on thousands of people participating in open air church services in Port-au-Prince and in Leogane, ground zero for the cataclysmic earthquake. Though churches throughout the capital city have been destroyed, worship services are in motion everywhere.

Only a day after Port-au-Prince's Roman Catholic archbishop was laid to rest, Father Glanda Toussaint was celebrating Mass. He devised a makeshift altar from a wooden table beside the destroyed cathedral. Father Toussaint has no illusions about the pain his nation is undergoing.

"What we are going through is not finished, we must reconstruct the country and reconstruct our faith," he told the Washington Post, "As a Haitian, it hurts."

Eighty percent of Haiti's population is Roman Catholic, and 16 percent Protestant. It's not hard to see that Haitians rely heavily on faith. Though at least half of the population also practices forms of voodoo, believing in the presence and role of spirits in the lives of the people, they don't practice it as a separate religion. The vast majority of Haitians consider Christianity to be their faith.

Richard Morse, a renowned Haitian-American musician, says that while his fellow Haitians suffer many trials, "when it comes to spiritual strength, Haiti is one of the richest nations in the world."

Survivors, many of them pulled from the rubble after over a week, are praising God for their rescue. But others have seen their entire families destroyed by the quake, and many are asking why. Why this loss? Why here, in the most impoverished nation in the Western hemisphere, in a nation where infrastructure is far from sound? Why, God, why?

The Rev. Romane St. Vil is a Maryknoll priest and originally from Haiti. "It shakes everyone's faith, even my own,'' he told The Tennessean. "When I heard, I said, 'God, why? Why? Why?' This is one of the poorest places on earth. Why must this strike at this time, at this place.' We will never know the answer in this life.''

For many Haitians, asking "why" doesn't cancel out faith. "People don't blame Jesus for all these things," one survivor told the CNN. "They have faith. They believe that Jesus saved them and are thankful for that."

Jean Mackenle Verpre echoes her sentiment. After being buried in rubble for 48 hours, Verpre was rescued. He, like 11- year-old Anaika, suffered a crushing leg injury. When asked what kept him going, Verpre's reply was simple. He believes in Jesus Christ and put his life in God's hands.

A poignant photo in The Tennessean captures Maxi Phalone, a survivor, singing praises to God upon seeing her sister pulled alive from the wreckage of a building in Port-au-Prince, while The Washington Post chronicles the tragedy of a father whose five children lie buried under the ruins of a home. "How could He do this to us?" he cried, adding bitterly, "There is no God."

But the Rev. Romane St. Vil is certain that though his people have been stripped of everything else, their faith, for the most part, remains. "You have no other recourse,'' he says, "Faith keeps them going. It is a way to hold on. We have nothing else."

At the very least, St. Vil is right about that. There is nothing else; there is nothing left.

As makeshift church services draw thousands who have lost family and friends in the rubble, as women sing in the streets out of gratitude to God for a saved life, I think maybe he is right about faith as well. Perhaps it is a way for heartbroken Haitians to "hold on," and perhaps it is even more than that.

In a place where life has been stripped to bare essentials - and you're lucky to have those - there are people living and worshiping and not being afraid. This life, even the life of bare essentials, is not so bare or benighted if somehow there is the possibility of God in this tragic darkness.

"Everything is back to the Dark Ages," Rev. St. Vil says, "but if we are living, if we breathe, we have faith.''

If you'd like to support earthquake relief efforts in Haiti, consider joining some of's partners in their work: Global Aid Network (GAiN) USA, Food for the Hungry, Samaritan's Purse, and World Vision.

Kristin Butler has visited with Christian communities throughout South Asia and the Middle East. She is a contributing writer at and covers religious freedom and human rights issues at For further articles, visit her blog at, or email [email protected].