Category Archives: Haitian Religion

God and Suffering: Remembering the Haitian Earthquake of January 2010

On January 11, 2012, I published this post on Black White and Gray blog “God and Suffering: Remembering the Haitian Earthquake of January 2010.

“Rather than attributing a natural disaster to an individual’s sins or the collective sins of a people, Father Jadotte’s homily emphasized a recurring theme in Catholic social and moral teaching: the people of God are called to build a just world, achieved through a constant conversion that obliges them to keep improving this world even when tremendous obstacles arise.

This homily extends the “theology of grace and hope” I wrote about in Faith Makes Us Live to the latest and probably greatest tragedy in Haitian history. This theology of grace and hope is powerfully illustrated by the picture placed on the altar of Notre Dame, which shows a man in Haiti gazing at the ruins of Sacred Heart Catholic Church. A crucifix remains standing, and at the foot of the crucifix is an image that looks remarkably like the Virgin Mary. The stained glass window behind the picture depicts the Virgin Mary and says in Creole “Mother Mary, you always come to our rescue.”

Click here to read the full post.

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What do We Pray For?

On October 19, 2011, I published a piece for Patheos on the Black, White and Gray blog entitled:  What Do we Pray for?

“So one day, I finally asked a woman I had been helping tutor English to, who I call Julia in my book, “Julia, what do you ask for when you pray?” Her reply really surprised me. “Ask for?” she queried me in return. “First, I give God thanks for all the things I have. We have to be grateful because we are God’s children.” But surely, I insisted, you must be asking God to help you? “I pray for others first. I pray for peace in the world; for an end to violence. Only when I’m done all that would I ask for what I need.””

Click here to read the full post.

Haitians’ Gratitude Reminds us of the Meaning of Thanksgiving

It is appropriate Anne Barnard’s excellent coverage of Haitian Catholicism, entitled “Suffering, Haitians Turn to Charismatic Prayer,” should appear on the front page of the New York Times on Thanksgiving Day, for one of the strongest themes of Haitian Catholic Charismatic movement is gratitude. During the nearly two years of fieldwork I conducted in Haiti and the Haitian Catholic communities of Miami, Montreal and Paris, published as  Faith Makes Us Live: Surviving and Thriving in the Haitian Diaspora  (University of California Press 2009) I was struck by how Haitian Catholics, no matter how desperate their circumstances might seem like to outsiders, always expressed a profound sense of gratefulness for God’s gifts. During this holiday season, we can learn from Haitians how living in gratitude for the gifts we have received opens up our lives to be a gift to others.

To read my full comment on this article, visit the University of Notre Dame’s Contending Modernities blog.

Review of My Book Published in the Canadian Journal of Sociology

Philippe Couton of the University Ottawa published a review of my book, Faith Makes Us Live: Surviving and Thriving the Haitian Diaspora, in the fall edition of the Canadian Journal of Sociology. This is an open-access journal, so all should be able to access it by clicking here.

Professor Couton summarizes the main points of my book and states that “the result is an original, richly detailed study of one the world’s great diasporas, and one that makes a clear, well-supported argument about the role of ethnic and mainstream religious institutions in the lives and adaptation of immigrants in three very different social settings.”

After pointing out the book’s merits, he then critiques the book because it “often seems biased in favour of Catholic organizations and quick to dismiss or at least ignore their potential problems (of which the current spate of scandals is only one). It has been widely known that religion is a very common lifeline for immigrants (particularly refugees, illegals, and others who face difficult situations), but organized religion has almost as often been a crutch or worse.”

In response to Couton’s review, Brian McDonough, the director of the Social Action Office of the Catholic Archdiocese of Montreal wrote to me in an email, “I’m not sure that I agree with Couton’s assertion that organized religion has been ‘a crutch or worse’ for immigrants. On what grounds does he make this assertion? Also his reference to the ‘current spate of scandals’ is a cheap shot that is hardly relevant to the role the institutional Church play in welcoming and assisting in the integration of persons who have just arrived [in Canada].” As a lawyer and a member in good standing of the Québec Bar, a former board member of Montreal’s United Way (“Centraide du Grand Montréal) and the founding president of Community Chaplaincy of Montreal (a prison ministry program), McDonough’s reply provides an expert voice questioning Couton’s assertions.

In early November 2010, I presented the findings of my book to a group of scholars who participated in a seminar on Religion and Public Life in Canada organized by Solange Lefebvre from the University of Montreal. In that presentation, I stated that, as evidenced by Couton’s review, the dominant perception in Canada (and particularly in Quebec) is that organized religion is a crutch for weak members of society and that the personal failures of members of Catholic Church impede its institutional work for the poor. This popularly accepted narrative portrays religion as a problem in society rather than as part of the solution to society’s problems. In contrast, my book portrays the power of Haitians’ faith—lived through organized religious communities—to transform their lives. Furthermore, I show how Catholic social service institutions—another expression of organized religion—were once crucial to the successful integration of Haitians in Montreal. The soon-to-be-published scholarship from the November 2010 conference at the University of Montreal will provide further information on the long-overlooked contributions of religion to public life in Canada.

Review of My Book Published in the Miami Herald

On Thursday, October 21, 2010, Marifeli Perez-Stable, Professor of Sociology at Florida International University, published a review of my book in The Miami Herald. Click here to see the review. Her review shows a great appreciation for both the ethnographic and the comparative arguments of my book.

Interview Published by the NY-based National Center for Haitian Apostolate

On June 23, 2010, the National Center for Haitian Apostolate, based in New York, published an extensive interview with me where I talk about my book and its implications for post-earthquake Haiti and Haitian-Americans. Click here to read the article.

Thomas G. Wenski named Archbishop of Miami

The priest I wrote about in Faith Makes Us Live, Thomas G. Wenski, was named the new Archbishop of Miami on April 20, 2010. For more on Wenski and his appointment to lead the Miami Archdiocese, click here. As he founded the Haitian Catholic Mission of Miami (Notre Dame d’Haiti Catholic Church and the Pierre Toussaint Center), I interviewed Wenski several times for my book. He led those two institutions for two decades before serving as Auxiliary Bishop of Miami and then Bishop of Orlando. I remember Wenski for his great enthusiasm and agility for both pastoral and social work. My interviews with him challenged my presumption that the church’s social work is its most important contribution to immigrant assimilation. “Remember,” he told me, “I built the community starting with the Eucharist. The social programs came later.” He also insisted that rather than sharing a parish with other English-speaking or Spanish-speaking Catholics in Miami, the Haitian Catholic community of Miami needed a place of its own. He moved quickly to find a home for Haitian Catholics and founded Notre Dame and the Toussaint Center in the geographic center of Miami’s neighborhood called Little Haiti. As I argue in my book, Notre Dame and the Toussaint Center have welcomed thousands of Haitians in Miami and helped them successfully integrate in Miami, all the while helping them maintain their devout Catholic faith. Wenski’s return to Miami as Archbishop means, among other things, that his pastoral and social work on behalf of the Haitian community of Miami is greatly valued.

Miami Herald Easter Sunday Article on Faith and Social Action at Notre Dame d’Haiti in Miami

Click here to read an article published on Easter Sunday in the Miami Herald about the faith and social activities at Notre Dame d’Haiti in Miami (one of the sites of my fieldwork) in response to the earthquake.

Theodicy at Notre Dame d’Haiti, Miami, March 2010

In March 2010, I visited Notre Dame d’Haiti Catholic Church in Miami’s neighborhood called Little Haiti, where I did fieldwork for my book. I had the opportunity to attend Mass at Notre Dame with other academics who are members of the Congregational Studies Team (pictured here from left to right are Steve Warner, University of Illinois-Chicago; Nancy Ammerman, Boston University; Omar McRoberts, University of Chicago; Fritz Armand, Notre Dame d’Haiti; myself; Larry Mamiya, Vassar College). Given the enormous damage caused by the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, how have the leaders at Notre Dame interpreted the earthquake in the light of faith? At Mass on Sunday March 7, Father Jean Jadotte reminded those present that Jesus clearly stated in the Gospel that those who suffer greatly are not bigger sinners than anyone else. When Father Jadotte asked rhetorically during his homily, “Are we better than those who died in the earthquake?” many members of the congregation said “no” under their breath. Father Jadotte then specifically mentioned he disagreed with Pat Robertson’s claim that Haitians have suffered because they made a pact with the devil. However, Father Jadotte added that all Haitians have some responsibility for the death caused by the earthquake, pointing out that no so many people would have died from the earthquake if Haitians had organized their country better. When he said that some Haitians also bear responsibility for interrupting the aid distribution by stealing and creating disorder, many of the faithful at Notre Dame responded “mm hmm,” signaling their agreement this criticism. To conclude his message, Father Jadotte pointed out that St. Paul wrote that all people, not just some, are in need of conversion. God has given those who survived the earthquake a second chance, during which they have to work harder than before to rebuild their country. Rather than attributing a natural disaster to an individual’s sins or the collective sins of a people, Father Jadotte’s homily emphasized a recurring theme in Catholic social and moral teaching: the people of God are called to build a just world, achieved through a constant conversion that obliges them to keep improving this world even when tremendous obstacles arise. This homily extends the “theology of grace and hope” I wrote about in Faith Makes Us Live to the latest and probably greatest tragedy in Haitian history. This recent theodicy of grace and hope is powerfully illustrated by the picture placed on the altar of Notre Dame, which shows a man in Haiti gazing at the ruins of Sacred Heart Catholic Church. A crucifix remains standing, and at the foot of the crucifix is an image that looks remarkably like the Virgin Mary. The stained glass window behind the picture depicts the Virgin Mary and says in Creole “Mother Mary, you always come to our rescue.”

Article Published on Disaster, Religion, and Resilience in Haiti

On Wednesday, February 24th, I published an online article at “The Immanent Frame”, a web forum sponsored by Social Science Research Council, in which I argue that disaster relief efforts in Haiti can be bolstered by building on the resilience of the Haitian people. Click here to see the story.