Hope in the Ruins of Haiti

COLLEEN CARROLL CAMPBELL

America is rushing to rescue Haiti from collapse. But Haiti is rescuing America, too.

We all know the proximate causes for the earthquake that devastated Haiti: shifting tectonic plates, crumbling infrastructure and a mix of historical, political and cultural factors that have rendered the poor island nation uniquely vulnerable to calamity. Metaphysical causes for the disaster—answers to the big questions of why here, why now?—are more difficult to discern. Not that there has been any shortage of glib explanations on offer.

Actor Danny Glover blamed the 7.0-magnitude tremor on U.S. inaction on global warming, suggesting in a recent television interview that it was Mother Nature's angry retort to an ineffectual Copenhagen Climate Summit. Radio Netherlands Worldwide reports that Queen Djehami of Allada, a town in the African republic of Benin, believes the quake resulted from Haitians' failure to perform voodoo sacrifices to appease angry spirits.

Most famously and maddeningly of all, televangelist Pat Robertson told his CBN audience that Haiti's heartbreaking misfortune could be traced to a curse that began with a centuries-old "pact to the devil" performed by the nation's founders. His remarks provoked indignation from the press room of the White House to the shores of Port-au-Prince, where an estimated 200,000 have died and millions more are struggling—and praying—for survival.

Most Christian leaders have rejected Robertson's paint-by-numbers theodicy, preferring to remind their flocks that Christians worship a loving God willing to suffer with and for his people, even as he sometimes permits suffering for reasons we cannot fully comprehend. As St. Louis native and New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan said in a recent interview, "Haiti is the broken, bloodied body of Jesus in the arms of his blessed Mother, crying out to the world now for aid and assistance."

That cry is being answered, and Americans are leading the way. For all our faults, we can be proud of the millions of dollars Americans have donated to relief organizations, the way two former presidents with no lost love between them have banded together to promote Haitian relief, and home-grown efforts like the collaboration between the St. Louis-based Hollyberry Baking Company and the homeless clients served by St. Patrick Center, who are baking and selling cookies for the benefit of earthquake victims. These tangible acts of love, and the prayers that accompany them, are the most fitting response we can give to that nagging question, "Why?"

Haitians themselves seem to know this. A few news reports out of Haiti have featured survivors raging against God and leaving their faith in the dust of their wrecked homes and lives. Far more have highlighted the steadfast faith and resilience of the Haitian people—their impromptu Sunday praise gatherings in the ruins, their gratitude to God for the sheer gift of survival, their determination to band together to rescue loved ones still lost or buried beneath the rubble.

The needs of the Haitian people and our own capacity to address them have reminded us once again that the mystery of suffering is best answered with self-giving love, a love that can restore hope to those who give as well as those who receive.

The poorest nation in the Western hemisphere may look like a cursed land to America's prosperity preachers, but believers in places like Haiti know what it means to rely on God's providence in a way that most health-and-wealth gurus never will. When they read in their tattered Bibles that "The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and those who are crushed in spirit he saves," they need not twist their minds in knots to comprehend the meaning of that psalm. They know it in their bones, and they live it every day.

America is rushing to rescue Haiti from collapse. But Haiti is rescuing America, too. For the moment, at least, Haiti's crisis has diverted our collective attention from celebrity sex scandals and our own fiscal woes to the big questions we forget to ask and the gratitude we forget to practice. The needs of the Haitian people and our own capacity to address them have reminded us once again that the mystery of suffering is best answered with self-giving love, a love that can restore hope to those who give as well as those who receive.

 


 


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Colleen Carroll Campbell. "Hope in the Ruins of Haiti." St. Louis Post-Dispatch. (January 21, 2010).

Reprinted with permission of the author, Colleen Carroll Campbell.

THE AUTHOR

Colleen Carroll Campbell is an author, television and radio host and St. Louis-based fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. She is the author of The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy. Colleen Carroll Campbell writes for a wide variety of national publications, speaks to audiences across America, and hosts her own television show, "Faith & Culture," on EWTN, the world's largest religious media network.  Her website is here.

Copyright © 2010 Colleen Carroll Campbell




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