A 7.0 magnitude earthquake occurred 10 miles southwest of Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12, causing widespread devastation in Haiti's capital and throughout the country.
Port-au-Prince, Haiti Christian and Voodoo leaders put aside their differences for a moment Friday, joining hands under a canopy of tropical trees as some earthquake survivors on crutches and in wheelchairs mourned the more than 200,000 Haitians killed by an earthquake one month ago.
The catastrophe has driven a wedge between Haiti’s religions as Christian groups make inroads among shaken Voodoo followers — some drawn by the steady flow of aid through evangelical missions and others frightened by a disaster they saw as a warning from God.
“People see rice being distributed in front of churches and those homeless now needing papers are being offered baptism certificates that can act as identity documents,” Voodoo priest Max Beauvoir told The Associated Press before speaking at Friday’s service. “The horrible thing though is that by rejecting Voodoo these people are rejecting their ancestors and history. Voodoo is the soul of the Haitian people. Without it, the people are lost.”
Beauvoir said it took weeks of negotiations to arrange his participation in Friday’s ceremony, and that some didn’t want Voodoo represented in Port-au-Prince on Friday’s national day of mourning.
Haitians gathered under the shade of mimosa and powderpuff trees and flooded the streets of the capital in prayer, climbing atop the rubble of destroyed churches and spilling into parks where they stretched their arms to the skies. Hymns reverberated throughout the shattered city.
President Rene Preval broke down in tears, wiping his eyes with a handkerchief as his wife tried to console him.
“The pain is too heavy — words cannot describe it,” Preval said in one of the first major public addresses he has made in weeks.
After the quake, evangelical U.S. broadcaster Pat Robertson said Haiti had been cursed after its slave founders made a “pact with the devil.” The White House called the remark “stupid” but some Haitians wonder if God may be angry for their close ties to the spirit world.
“The earthquake scared me,” said Veronique Malot, a 24-year-old who joined an evangelical church two weeks ago when she found herself living in one of the city’s many outdoor camps. “Voodoo has been in my family but the government isn’t helping us. The only people giving aid are the Christian churches.”
Christians have spearheaded international disaster relief in Haiti and the rest of the developing world for decades.
Baptists, Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientologists, Mormons and other missionaries have flocked to Haiti in droves since the earthquake — feeding the homeless, treating the injured and preaching the Gospel in squalid camps where some 1 million people now live.
In many of the camps, trucks with loudspeakers blast evangelical music while missionaries talk to families under tarpaulin roofs.
The Rev. Florian Ganthier, of an evangelical church that was partially destroyed in the quake, said he knows of dozens of Voodoo followers who have converted in the last month.
“People who practice Voodoo are living in the shadows,” Ganthier said. “This earthquake was a sign to all those who do not accept Jesus Christ in their life.”