Searching for answers in Haiti

The incredible devastation and destruction caused by the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti has prompted many to wonder why a nation already so impoverished would experience such tragedy.

Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete, a former physicist and U.S.  director of the Catholic lay group Communion and Liberation, attempts to shed some light on understanding the tragedy in a Jan. 15 America magazine blog

The priest asks: “By what measure do we comprehend something like this? What could ever make it so understandable that we can eliminate from our hearts and minds the cry that surfaces again and again, the cry of why?”

He also notes that amid the tragedy “the church was not spared anything. The cathedral collapsed killing the archbishop, seminaries and convents were destroyed, killing future priests and dedicated religious sisters.”

Msgr. Albacete said he couldn’t offer “an explanation for why this God allows these tragedies to happen” as any attempt at explaining would “reduce the pain and suffering.” Instead, he said he can only “accept a God who ‘co-suffers’ with me. Such is the God of the Christian faith.”

Carl Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus, similarly told a Catholic news agency that “thousands of homilies will be given in the coming days to help us understand how a loving God could allow such suffering.”

Without mentioning the televangelist Pat Robertson by name, Anderson said “one of the more controversial explanations” of the destruction in Haiti “came from a Protestant evangelist who stated that Haiti had been ‘cursed’ ever since its founders had ‘sworn a pact with the devil’ to achieve the nation’s independence from France.”

Robertson, founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network, gave his explanation of his perceived root of Haiti’s troubles in a Jan. 13 segment on his network.

The Christian Broadcasting Network quickly backpedaled on the comments on their Web site where a spokesman said Robertson didn’t mean to imply the earthquake was the Haitians’ fault, and that he was merely repeating a legend that has led “countless scholars and religious figures over the centuries to believe the country is cursed.”

The legend, that Haiti was built on a pact with the devil has circulated on a number of Web sites tracing back to an tale of Haitian voodoo priests offering sacrifices prior to the slave revolt that led to the country’s founding.

A CNS story in 1991 recounts the 200th anniversary of this event and the controversy around it, noting that the streets were relatively quiet in the capital city Aug. 14 as Haitians prepared an evening of celebration of the Aug. 14, 1791, meeting by slaves to plot the overthrow of their French colonial masters.

Details of the anniversary of this event note that plans were “fraught with controversy between members of Protestant sects and those who follow a mix of Catholicism and traditional African religion, with the Catholic president in the middle.”

The CNS story continues: “The evil spirits invoked at Bois Caiman have brought a curse on this country,” according to a pastor during one of many anti-voodoo street marches. Bois Caiman is where African slaves met to plot the uprising 200 years ago. Tradition maintains that to ensure their success they held a voodoo ceremony that included a blood pact and the sacrifice of a pig.

 A week later, slaves rose up and in a single night burned sugar-cane fields, mills and plantation houses and killed thousands of Frenchmen.

The government planned to hold a secular commemoration — including drumming throughout the country at midnight — but even this drew Protestant criticism.

One Protestant group invited all Christians to pray at midnight “to free Haiti from the baleful influence of the voodoo spirits and reconsecrate it to Christ.”

Even though some type of voodoo meeting took place more than 200 years ago at the start of Haiti’s founding, other Christian leaders are hardly pointing to it as the cause for the current devastation.

Anderson pointed out that there is “ample evidence in the Old Testament of nations being punished by God for idolatry and injustice and some Christians continue to look to this Old Testament history for explanations of world events.”

“But Catholics today are more likely to look in a different direction to understand how God deals with human sinfulness. And they need look no further than at the crucifix above the altar in their church. God has freely and lovingly united himself with human suffering in the sacrifice of his Son upon the cross,” he said.

He also added that the tragedy in Haiti is “likely to have long-lasting effects, not only for the people who have lost loved ones there, but for an entire generation that has witnessed its destruction. And it is important that we get the right understanding of what has occurred there.”