After earthquake, a spiritual debate brews
Published: Monday, January 18, 2010 at 8:29 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 18, 2010 at 8:29 a.m.
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The recent earthquake may have devastated lives and buildings in Haiti, but it has also shaken hearts and minds.
"The kids can't comprehend — why would an all-knowing, all-powerful, loving God let this happen?" the Rev. Linus Nangwele said Friday after leading Mass at St. Anthony Catholic School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "They feel he should have known, could have prevented it. Why would he let the people suffer?
"They are children's questions, but so profound."
As victims in Haiti strive to survive, their relatives and others in the United States grope for reasons. Was it divine punishment for a sin? A simple natural disaster? Or an act of God that they may never grasp?
Upon hearing of the disaster, Josy Payas, of Miramar, Fla., fell to her knees and prayed. She later learned that her aunt and cousin-in-law died in the rubble. And she hasn't been able to find dozens of other relatives.
"I don't know why something like this would happen," said Payas, 42, trying to hold back tears. "All I know is that we need Jesus."
Some observers, as always, have invoked Jesus for their own purposes. Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson drew some angry rebukes this week when he said God was punishing Haiti for allegedly striking a deal with the devil.
"In a time of natural disaster, bad theology always makes an appearance," said the Rev. Douglas Brouwer, who will discuss the earthquake Sunday at First Presbyterian Church of Fort Lauderdale. "It's time to face up to the mystery. There are parts of God that we don't understand. His intentions are not always clear to us."
Some mix spiritual and environmental explanations. They note that the earthquake followed four back-to-back storms in 2008. They wonder if there's a pattern.
For Vodou priest Erol Josue, of Miami, the disasters have been Mother Nature's way of giving Haiti a wake-up call. For too long, he said, the environment has been neglected through abuses like deforestation.
"This is nothing to do with the devil," Josue said. "I don't think Jesus is coming. It's Mother Nature telling us ... we're going too far."
But such claims end up blaming the victims and adding to their suffering, in the view of the Rev. Roland Desormeaux at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Delray Beach, Fla.
"Anyone who says such a thing doesn't understand God," he said. "God came into the world and accepted suffering as Jesus. He showed that we will suffer, but if we are faithful in our suffering, we will be raised like Jesus."
Although they don't know why Haiti was hit, some count on their spiritual fortitude to get them through. Even in the makeshift camps, they note, earthquake victims have been heard singing hymns.
"For three days I didn't hear from my mother, yet I was at peace," said Pastor Jacques Dumornay of First Haitian Baptist Church of Pompano Beach, Fla. "And yesterday, at 4 a.m., I heard she was alive.
"I don't ask God why. I just let him run the world the way he wants."
"We tell our members everything that happens is in God's plan," said Rose Remilien, financial secretary at Bethel Evangelical Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale. "God is still God and he does everything for a reason."
Desormeaux, the Delray Beach priest, went beyond the whys. He described the tragedy in Haiti as a time of trial and refinement, like purifying gold.
"When you dig gold out of the ground, it's ugly and nobody wants it," he said. "Then you put it through the fire, and it's beautiful."
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