by Stefan Bos, Worthy News Chief International Correspondent
(Worthy News) - As the death toll of western Haiti’s 7.2 magnitude earthquake rose to 1,300, churches struggled to provide hope and relief to a wounded nation.
Church leaders in Haiti, already considered the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, feared they would be overwhelmed by requests for aid.
In the town of Mazenod, anxious residents watched as volunteers tried to extract two women from the rubble of a collapsed church guesthouse. Reporters noticed that a metallic crush of a bulldozer was heaping the debris aside as men used their bare hands to move concrete slabs.
Nearly the entire complex of the Chapel of St. Eugene of Mazenod had been destroyed, including its seminary and secondary schools.
Priest Corneille Fortuna, who helps run the complex, told The New York Times newspaper that he narrowly survived when his residence caved in. Bricks blocked the entrance and trapping him inside. A half-hour later, he heard his name being called and screamed out for help. Eventually, friends were able to pull him from the destruction.
He was among the lucky ones. “I came here to look for my sister, but then I got this scene,” said Melchirode Walter, 31, whose younger sister, Solange, 26, was trapped under the rubble. “Now, I don’t think there’s any hope. We have been calling her name since yesterday and knocking on the concrete, but there is nothing.”
The earthquake also came as a shock for priest Jean Edy Desravines. He said he had been preparing a sermon for Sunday “to inspire parents to send their children back to school next month.”
He explained to The New York Times that he wanted to “have them rejoin our community after such a tough year,” referring to the pandemic.
However, “Now there is no school to even send them to,” the priest said, adding that the primary school his church runs had also been flattened.
“In a small town like this, the church is all we have,” he stressed.
“Haiti is a country where every disaster is possible,” Priest Fortuna warned, standing by his chapel. “And there is never any help.”
He worried that the church would be unable to provide for the families that have come to rely on it. The church offers hot lunches — the most complete meal most children in the area receive — every day to its 875 students, about one-third who attend tuition-free. The school was set to open in early September; its work is crucial in the battle against rampant child malnutrition and undereducation across Haiti, the church says.
“If we cannot open, what will happen to the children? They will stay home, and we will lose them,” Father Fortuna said. “There is no government, and we must do what we can to provide for the population.”
Christian leaders also face the prospect of kidnappings in the violence-prone nation of 11 million people. Several Church leaders have been kidnapped for ransom.