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Searching among a Haitian cathedral's ruins

The collapse of Notre Dame Cathedral in Port-au-Prince struck at the heart of a religiously fervent people.

By Tracy Wilkinson

January 16, 2010

Reporting from Port-Au-Prince, Haiti - The woman wailed outside the ruins of the Notre Dame Cathedral of Port-au-Prince, the iconic Roman Catholic church that symbolized Haiti's religious fervor.

"This is what God did!" she cried Friday morning. "See what God can do!"

Tuesday's earthquake brought down the roof of the enormous pink-and-cream church, filling the apse and nave with tons of rubble. The quake punched out its vivid stained glass windows, twisted its wrought-iron fencing and sliced brick walls like cake. The western steeple, which had soared more than 100 feet, toppled onto parishioners praying at an outdoor shrine to St. Emmanuel. Flies buzzed around the pile of copper, plaster and felled columns.

The senior Catholic figure in the country, Msgr. Joseph Serge Miot, was killed in the magnitude 7.0 earthquake. As many as 100 priests were still missing, sacristan Jean Claude Augustin said.

By the cathedral's ruins lay a small blue copy of the New Testament. Sheet music for Christian hymns was scattered through the street.

Haiti is, officially, predominantly Catholic, with some Protestant faiths. But across the board is an underlying belief in, or respect for, voodoo and other indigenous traditions, which are often mixed in with those religious practices.

Former Haitian President Bertrand Aristide was at one time wildly popular in part for his blend of superstitious spirituality, social activism and Catholic faith.

Many have turned to God for an explanation of this catastrophe visited upon Haiti. Tens of thousands of people have been spending the nights in the streets, singing hymns and calling out the Gospel.

Dudu Orelian, whose brother and nephew were killed, stood outside the cathedral.

"God is angry at the world," Orelian said.

Jack Fisner, a Haitian seminarian who lives in the Dominican Republic, came to Port-au-Prince to begin coordinating aid and prepare a report for the pope.

"This has been a terrible blow to the church and the people," Fisner said. "You have to question your faith, but hopefully not lose it."

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