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Earthquake Deals A Powerful Blow To Haiti's Catholic Churches


Churches have long been a lifeline for millions in Haiti, providing spiritual sustenance as well as physical provisions. But hundreds of churches now lay in ruins after a powerful earthquake devastated southern Haiti more than two weeks ago. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: In the mountain community of Marceline, Father Jean Eddy Dersravine stands in a narrow dirt patch behind a simple wooden lectern. He's surrounded by huge piles of concrete rubble, crushed wooden pews and other remnants of liturgical life. More than two-dozen people sit in metal chairs, chanting responsively their prayers.


JEAN EDDY DERSRAVINE: (Singing in Creole).

KAHN: Dersravine says it's unclear how his congregation will rebuild.

DERSRAVINE: (Speaking Creole).

KAHN: "I've lost everything," he says. The tiny town near the epicenter of the August 14 quake was hard hit. The main road cracked, homes collapsed, and the towering concrete church was flattened. Fifty-nine-year-old Gertrude Voltaire limped here with a thick bandage around her left leg.

GERTRUDE VOLTAIRE: (Speaking Creole).

KAHN: "I had to get here today. God saved me. And I had to come and give him thanks," she said. She was lucky. Thousands died. More than 12,000 were injured. Tens of thousands of buildings and homes were destroyed. According to a spokesman, nearly 300 Catholic churches were lost in Haiti's southern peninsula. Without a sanctuary, mourning the dead becomes more painful.


KAHN: This weekend, an outdoor dance club served as a venue to remember the late mayor of the city of Les Cayes. Jean Gabriel Fortune was pulled from the rubble of the hotel he owned here.

JEAN JEANNOT LUXAMAR: (Speaking Creole).

KAHN: Father Jean Jeannot Luxamar says in normal times, he would have held the service at his church across from the mayor's hotel. But that, too, was destroyed.

LUXAMAR: (Speaking Creole).

KAHN: We are facing a very difficult situation, says Luxamar. He says the vast majority of Catholic churches are now gone.


KAHN: At the Protestant Church of God congregation near downtown Les Cayes, the pews are packed. Huge cracks can be seen in the sanctuary's walls. Pastor Bellvue LeMarc says hundreds show up daily for a hot meal. At night, they pitch their tents and sleep in the gravel courtyard.

BELLVUE LEMARC: (Speaking Creole).

KAHN: Every day, the need seems to be greater, he says. As do many in Haiti, LeMarc's church provides much more than prayers, also food, education and clean drinking water. Residents fill jugs and plastic buckets with fresh water from a spigot in the church's courtyard. Churches have increasingly become the main social safety net in Haiti, as the government is racked by rising crime and political chaos. The earthquake is just the latest blow here, says the Catholic Archdiocese, which says, sadly, the prospects for reconstruction are bleak.

UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR: (Singing in non-English language).

KAHN: At the Church of God, the choir practices out in the courtyard.

UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR: (Singing in non-English language).

KAHN: Faith and song are what they hold on to.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Les Cayes, Haiti.

UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR: (Singing in non-English language). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.