Fearful Haiti quake survivors turn to God for help

PORT-AU-PRINCE Mon Jan 18, 2010 7:59am IST

A man paints the word ''SOS'' on a street in downtown Port-au-Prince January 17, 2010. Survivors of Haiti's devastating earthquake gave thanks to God on Sunday, in churches if they were still standing, or on the street, out of fear of dangerous aftershocks.REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

A man paints the word ''SOS'' on a street in downtown Port-au-Prince January 17, 2010. Survivors of Haiti's devastating earthquake gave thanks to God on Sunday, in churches if they were still standing, or on the street, out of fear of dangerous aftershocks.

Credit: Reuters/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

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PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Survivors of Haiti's devastating earthquake gave thanks to God on Sunday, in churches if they were still standing, or on the street, out of fear of dangerous aftershocks.

"It has been a week for thanking God for protecting us. We are suffering a lot. Praying helps us," said evangelical worshiper Anne Pierre, 64, who lost her home but whose family is safe "thanks to God."

So many churches were damaged in Tuesday's quake which wrecked Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, that religious Haitians sheltering in tent cities were asking Catholic priests to hold masses at their makeshift camps.

The city's once-majestic Notre Dame cathedral lay in ruins, but some people went to pray near its rubble for the Roman Catholic priests and parishioners killed when it toppled.

They also grieved the loss of the beloved leader of Haiti's Catholic Church, Archbishop of Port-au-Prince Monsignor Joseph Serge Miot, who died when his residence collapsed and he fell to the ground outside, smashing his head.

"I was totally numb when I saw his house crumbled," Vatican envoy Bernadito Auza told Reuters at his hilltop home, which was not damaged.

"The loss is unimaginable," he said of the loss of Catholic churches, convents and seminaries. "It will take us decades to replace what we have lost."

Among those who died in churches were dozens of children who were being handed food donations at a church in the nearby town of Legane, where the earthquake's epicentre hit, Auza said.

Since Tuesday's 7.0 magnitude earthquake, hundreds of thousands of Haitians have slept out in the streets, singing hymns for comfort and praying in the darkness.

About 80 percent of Haitians are Catholic and 16 percent Protestant, though more than half the population are believed to practice voodoo, a religion with roots in Africa.

Many Haitians have turned to God for an explanation of their impoverished country's worst catastrophe in living memory, which has killed up to 200,000 people.

At Saint Jean Bosco, an intact Catholic Church in a less damaged part of town, smartly dressed worshipers sang and clapped with their outstretched palms in the air.

"This increases our faith, despite everything. He (God) has protected us," said Dania Aly, 22.

DRESSED IN SUNDAY BEST

Despite the chaos, death and destruction, one evangelical congregation turned out in suits and ties, pressed white shirts and polished shoes for a Sunday service at the Assembly of God church in the suburb of Petionville.

The women wore smart white linen dresses and head scarves. But the service took place on the street in front of the church, even though it was undamaged, because people are still scared of going inside due to frequent quake aftershocks.

From a lectern on the sidewalk, pastor Joseph Pierre Roy led a service of prayers and songs in French and Creole.

"We are thanking God for protecting our church. This is the grace of God," he said.

At Port-au-Prince's demolished cathedral, a wrinkled, toothless old woman sat in the rubble with tears in her eyes, a bag of clothes and a container of water by her side.

"I lost so much. I am still trembling from the earthquake," she said.

Nearby, a blind man strummed a guitar and sang softly.

"I am singing for my country, for the razed presidential palace, for the razed justice palace, for my dead father, my dead sister," he sang.

"What has happened to Haiti I can't put into words. There aren't enough tears for all my sorrow."

(Reporting by Catherine Bremer, writing by Anthony Boadle, editing by Pascal Fletcher and Eric Beech)

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