A walk through destroyed Sacred Heart Parish seems mighty eerie

A crucifix remains standing amid the rubble of Sacred Heart Church in Port-au-Prince. (CNS/Bob Roller)

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Sacred Heart Parish in the middle of Port-au-Prince is a must-see stop for Catholics visiting Haiti. Built in 1905, the historic church in the Turgeau neighborhood was a favorite for average Catholics and top church officials alike.

It still is, but not because of its beauty or its tradition. Now people stop to see how badly the Jan. 12 earthquake shook the church to pieces.

Debris is stacked at least 15 feet high at the main entrance. Part of a steeple blocks the sidewalk and part of the street. A 20-foot tall crucifix in the corner of the church lot faces and remains largely undamaged, still announcing to all that this is the site of a once-beautiful church.

Behind the church, a wall has toppled backward  into what looks like a courtyard, exposing a triangle-shaped interior wall, which formed the backdrop to the main altar. Looking at the same wall from inside the destroyed structure, it still holds a modern crucifix. Below the image of the crucified Christ the tabernacle sits undamaged. A few feet away is the main altar, itself undamaged save for a fine coating of dust.

Walking inside what’s left of the church today seems eerie. A pile of bricks has forced open a set of side doors. Ceramic tiles and plaster ornaments cover the entryway and much of the aisles. The parish’s Nativity display had been toppled as well.

A pair of women's shoes on the floor inside Sacred Heart Church. (CNS/Bob Roller)

A thick layer of powdery white dust covered everything and made the floor slippery. The coat of dust reminds the visitor of the dust that coated desktops and fine china in the homes of people blocks away from the World Trade Center after the disaster of Sept. 11, 2001.

Pews were scattered about.  Three ladies’ purses, their contents scattered, rested on one of the pews in the middle of the church. A pair of ladies shoes remained on the floor near the front entrance. The stench of death emanated from the debris pile that blocked the main door. Surely the women who tried to flee as they prayed late in the afternoon remained there.

Surprisingly, not everything was destroyed. Several beautiful stained glass windows remained in place. A few Stations of the Cross still hung on the walls, needing only a good cleaning. The pews probably can be used in another church.

But Sacred Heart Church, as thousands of faithful Catholics knew it, is no more.

Most-viewed CNS stories for January

Is it February already? Here’s our monthly most-viewed list for January, in case you missed any of these:

1. Pope John Paul practiced self-mortification, postulator confirms (Jan. 26)

2. Papal liturgist endorses ‘reform of the reform’ of the liturgy (Jan. 7)

3. Pope prays for victims of Haiti quake; archbishop’s body found (Jan. 13)

4. CRS rep expects ‘thousands and thousands’ of dead, injured in Haiti (Jan. 13)

5. Pope offers thanks for 2009, encourages solidarity in 2010 (Dec. 31)

6. Forget doomsayers; stop smoking, fasten seatbelts, advises astronomer (Jan. 6)

7. Haitian archbishop who died in quake portrayed as a humble man (Jan. 14)

8. Pope asks priests to get online, spread the Gospel (Jan. 23)

9. A tightrope act? Pope prepares to visit Rome synagogue (Jan. 8)

10. Catholic aid agencies accept donations for Haitian quake relief (Jan. 13) — our list of where to give; still up to date.

US-born soldier of Haitian descent finds his ancestors’ homeland hurting

PETIONVILLE, Haiti — Being in Haiti for the first time in his life, Army Pfc. Cameron Taylor of New York never imagined the country would be hurting as much as it is.

Pfc. Cameron Taylor, with the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division, stands guard at a food distribution station in Petionville. (CNS/Bob Roller)

Assigned to a security detail with members of the 82nd Airborne Division at the World Food Program food distribution for earthquake victims in Petionville yesterday, the 27-year-old soldier shared a few impressions about what he’s seen so far.

“I have family here that I haven’t had the chance to meet because of the situation,” he said.

He has also found devastation to be beyond belief.

While he has not been able to reach relatives in Haiti yet, he has heard from family in his native Harlem neighborhood in New York City that several likely perished in the Jan. 12 earthquake.

Taylor expects that he will be able to reach his Haitian relatives at some point because he said he has been told his assignment will last for three to six months. That’s plenty of time to be of service not only to the U.S. but to injured and homeless Haitians as well.