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 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.