I do not know about you, but I have been overwhelmed by the coverage of the earthquake in Haiti. I feel like I have been stranding underneath a digital waterfall of pain, trying to make some sense out of all of the details, trying to see the larger picture.
I fear, of course, that the larger picture is even more hellish than the sum total of all of the grim close-ups. The story is so huge, so overwhelming that no one has managed to write the theodicy-angle story, or at least I haven’t seen one yet.
What are we suppose to make of this lone voice screaming in the middle of a New York Times visit to a morgue in Port-au-Prince?
A man dressed in white wandered among the onlookers, repeatedly shouting into a loudspeaker, “God is coming back!”
But the grim pileup of bodies all but masked one positive note: Haiti’s barely functioning state had begun to work, if still just minimally, by sending the police to gather bodies. The police pickup trucks were virtually the first organized recovery efforts seen in many parts of the city.
Millions of Americans are going to take out their checkbooks and rush donations to a wide variety of groups — secular and religious — that will now attempt to rush aid to the living, braving the realities of the always weak, but now shattered, infrastructure of Haiti. Many of these groups will, of course, be acting in the name of God. This is a coverage angle that will dominate many stories in the days ahead, since these kinds of offerings form immediate and practical bridges between the generous Americans and those who are suffering.
This is especially true here in Baltimore, the kind of city that offers a major port within shouting range of Washington, D.C. The Baltimore Sun put this angle on A1 and, logically enough, focused on the efforts of the city’s huge Catholic community.
On an ordinary day, Katie Goldsmith would be monitoring political and security conditions in West Africa from Catholic Relief Services’ Baltimore headquarters.
But on Thursday, with Haitians still waiting for international help in recovering from the earthquake that leveled Port-au-Prince, Goldsmith was working the phones at the agency, trying to find a port where it could begin landing food, medicine and supplies in the Caribbean nation of 9 million.
“We’ve heard that the commercial port in Port-au-Prince is nonoperable,” Goldsmith said in between calls. “We’re really trying to figure out where we can ship stuff, how we can ship stuff, who’s going to be able to pick up the stuff that we ship, and how?”
It was one of dozens of challenges, large and small, confronting the emergency response veterans at the agency’s West Lexington Street offices, as they shifted focus from accounting for the 300 staff members stationed in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation to figuring out how to begin delivering relief to the millions of Haitians now in need.
There are other agencies, of course, and several of them are mentioned. Barely.
Lutheran World Relief and World Relief in Baltimore and IMA World Health in New Windsor are also sending staff and supplies, and several local organizations, faith-based groups and individuals are raising funds.
The International Committee of the Red Cross on Thursday estimated the dead at 45,000 to 50,000, but with communications down, hospitals destroyed and bodies still lying in the streets, it was impossible to get an accurate toll. For survivors, aid officials were warning of a dire need for drinkable water, food and shelter.
As I stated, it’s obvious that the agency linked to the U.S. Catholic bishops is going to get the major plan in Baltimore. However, I did flinch when reading that passage since the city does include the headquarters of at least one other global aid agency that is gearing up to work in Haiti — the International Orthodox Christian Charities. That’s my own church, of course, so that jumped out at me. I wonder if the Sun missed any other major local operations of this kind.
The Catholic Church is, of course, the major player in the very complex reality that is religion in Haiti. At the Washington Times, Julia Duin stressed that fact in her report and included one detail that, in my opinion, should be receiving more attention in stories about the impact of the earthquake on the highest ranks of Haiti’s leadership.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops announced it would take up a special collection in churches this weekend to go to Catholic Relief Services (CRS), which has committed an initial $5 million to Haiti. Students at Catholic University celebrated a Mass for the victims Thursday and began a novena — a nine-day period of prayer — during which they will be raising money for CRS.
Catholics make up about 80 percent of Haiti’s population, and Haitian Catholic Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot was killed in the earthquake. His cathedral is in ruins, as is the Episcopal cathedral, Holy Trinity, in Port-au-Prince.
The death of the archbishop has to be affecting the church’s ability to get organized there in response to this epic tragedy. And speaking of the death of the archbishop, what is up with this reference in a Fox News report on his death?
The body of Msgr. Joseph Serge Miot, 65, was found under the rubble of the archdiocese, and may be one of only hundreds of victims trapped in the ruins of Church buildings on the island.
Monsignor? Catholic readers, is there any reason to call an archbishop a monsignor instead of, well, an archbishop? Or is this simply a strange mistake?
Please keep reading and help us spot some of the stories from Haiti that “get religion” or needed to do so.