By Ana Rodriguez-Soto
MIAMI (CNS) — Temporary protected status for Haitians: Granted.
Donations: in the millions of dollars and counting.
Aid: Flowing slowly but surely into the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince from every corner of the world.
Amid the devastation, amid the tens of thousands dead and hundreds of thousands unaccounted for, some good news came for south Florida’s grieving Haitians, who are still trying to make contact with missing relatives and still reeling from the worst earthquake to strike their homeland in 200 years.
As they gathered at Notre Dame d’Haiti Church for Sunday Mass Jan. 17, Archbishop John C. Favalora assured them that their suffering was not in vain and the earthquake was not a punishment from God.
“The Lord Jesus himself was a suffering son of the Father and that was not for punishment. That was to bring about new life,” an emotional archbishop said at the church in the middle of Little Haiti.
“We Catholics believe in miracles. And we look for a miracle in this situation. Finally, finally, the focus of the world is on Haiti. Finally,” the archbishop repeated, as Father Reginald Jean-Mary, the pastor, translated his words into Creole.
“It was a natural disaster that brought them there. But finally the focus of the world is on Haiti. And it should be on Haiti. New life, I hope and I pray, will come because of the suffering of the Haitian people. Jesus was innocent and he suffered. I believe that your people are innocent and have been suffering and the Lord will reward that,” Archbishop Favalora said.
He pointed out the great number of nations, governments and businesses that have pledged to help Haiti.
“That, itself, is a sign of God’s being with us and of the consolation of God being with us. We must see the hand of God in all of this,” Archbishop Favalora said. “Good Friday was not the end of the story. Easter Sunday was the end of the story. People of faith believe that. And that’s what gives us life.”
A few days earlier, Archbishop Favalora had led a chorus of activists and community leaders in urging the Obama administration to grant Haitians already in this country temporary protected status — a legal distinction that gives undocumented immigrants from affected nations the right to stay and work legally in this country without fear of deportation.
It is a humanitarian gesture that has been invoked in the past when immigrants’ country of origin has been beset by a natural disaster, such as an earthquake or a hurricane.
On Jan. 15 Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced that the special status would be granted.
“It’s not about telling your people to come to the U.S.,” Father Jean-Mary told the congregation Jan. 17. “Don’t encourage your friends or your family members to take to sea to come to the U.S. We don’t want any more tragedy.”
Instead, work and “save your money to help the children in Haiti. You’ve got to sacrifice for Haiti,” Father Jean-Mary said.
Many of those attending the Mass at Notre Dame d’Haiti had relatives in Haiti.
“I lost my cousins with their two kids and I can’t find two of my sisters,” said Patricia Charles, who made a point of kneeling at the altar after Mass and saying a special prayer.
Next to her was Marie Balthazar, also kneeling, also praying with hands outstretched, but in thanksgiving because her sister, brother and father were OK.
“My sister was at church. The church broke and then she’s saved,” Balthazar told the Florida Catholic, the archdiocesan newspaper.
Outside, at an earlier Mass, Natacha Louis wept and prayed.
“My family is alive. But the problem is they don’t find food,” she said.
Her brother and his children lived in Village Solidarite, about 35 to 40 minutes outside Port-au-Prince. She said they lived in an apartment building the walls of which cracked during the quake, so they could not go back inside.
The village was “very affected and nobody came to help them” because everyone is so focused on the capital.
“The kids survive with water and salt,” Louis said. But the stench of the dead is starting to make them sick. “Last night they sleep by the sea because the sea, there’s not too much smell.”
At the Mass Archbishop Favalora he expressed his condolences to the Haitian people.
“Words really do not carry the full meaning of what is in our hearts,” he said.
He then praised the “beautiful faith” of long-suffering Haitians and added: “The saddest people in this world are not the people who suffer. The saddest people in this world are the people who have no faith. They have no hope. They don’t believe that life comes from death. But that’s what we believe. That’s why the crucifix for us is a sign of hope, not a sign of death.”
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