Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Still Holding Haiti: Holy Week

Sorry for the delay in writing about the next part of my trip but here is the third installment from my visit.

Maundy Thursday

So I’m not sure if there has ever been a Holy Week where I went to all the services until this spring in Haiti. My first day was Maundy Thursday and I went to the service at St. Jacques le Juste in Petionville…the church that was on the same grounds as where I was staying and one of the few churches in the area to not be significantly damaged.

At the church in Haiti it is usually expected that you bring your own prayer book and hymnal and of course I didn’t have one. So as the service started I was sitting in a row by myself and kind of pretended to mouth whatever was going on in the service…until an older women signaled for me to come up and sit with her and she shared her books with me for the rest of the service…as well as every service I went to at the church for the rest of my trip.

I avoid going to church on Maundy Thursday in the US because I hate the whole idea of foot washing. I guess I get the point of it but I don’t need to have my feet washed or wash feet. It’s not my thing. Turns out it’s not really the Episcopal Church in Haiti’s thing either…so I was reprieved from the foot washing.

I will say that the missionary to Haiti I was travelling with gave a really good sermon that night all about foot washing and why we should do it. It was all about love, loving each other enough to serve one another and be served. There was a tent city across the street from the church and she brought up the image of going across the street and washing all of their feet. The feet of people who are living in mud, disease and who knows what else. The question was presented to us about what could we do to serve the people in the Tent City…foot washing being symbolic for some other action. But the message of love and serving no matter what was made especially real for me because of my experiences and being in Haiti at that moment.

Good Friday

I went to a service in the morning at St. Jacques which was a pretty simple service, but following that service we made our way down to St. Trinité Cathedral. Since the earthquake an open air cathedral had been constructed next to the ruins of the old cathedral. It was more than meaningful to worship there.

The service lasted for about 3 hours as what I believe is call the last acts, or the last words or something like that were read followed by a sermon for each one. There were 5 priests and they took turns preaching. At the end of all the readings the Bishop would come to finish the service.

Admittedly it was hard for me not to be antsy during the service but I enjoyed singing the hymns in French and Creole as well as watching two little boys playing but there are two parts that stick out to me the most.

Towards the beginning of the service as a reading was read I turned around, looking behind me and saw Bishop Duracin sitting in a car just watching and listening. He remained there for the rest of the service until it was time for him to process in and do his part. For me, it was nice to see him taking a few moments of quiet to himself, one of the few moments of peace I believe he has had since the earthquake. A time of reflection to think and watch his people worship. I couldn’t help but wonder what he was thinking.

The second most memorable image I have is during the service when one of the acolytes carried the cross up aisle playing the role of Jesus with the rumble and destruction in the background. Looking at the picture is better than me describing it so here it is…

Easter Vigil
Late morning the day of the Easter Vigil, Lauren and I were standing around the church. A petite old woman came up and said to us she thought there was a service and she had been waiting for it. Lauren politely told her the service was that evening and she hoped the women would come back that night for it. The woman’s clothes seemed to be a bit ragged and from the looks of her she didn’t seem very well off. She also began to explain that her leg was injured alluding to the pain she was in, her need for medical care and that it would be difficult to go home and come back again. For some reason I couldn’t help but feel some sort of warmth for her and a connection to her and I hoped she would make it back for the service that night.

To be honest I didn’t pay all that much attention to the service that evening (I was getting a bit churched out) but instead looked at the people around me. I was sitting next to the same women I had for the past services sharing her books as usual. At this point she was so used to hearing me read in French next to her that I actually think she thought I was good at French and would say things to me quickly in French and ask me questions. I usually just nodded or mumbled something in response.

There were some people I recognized from other times I had been at the church from before the earthquake. A mom who I had seen at the Christmas eve service, then with her exceptionally chubby cute son, another older women who usually talked to the women I sat by, but as the service started I looked and I did not seen the older woman from earlier that day.

The service was done with the lights out. Everyone brought their own white candles that were lit with a fire started at the beginning of the service. I began to observe the different candles. Many of the members that were present for the service are a more well off than the average Haitian so it was interesting to compare the candles. There was a thick long candle, short white candle in glass, candles with holders so wax wouldn’t land on their hands…

Then the old petite women walked into the church. She sat near the women I was sitting with. She still had a limp and had changed her clothes from earlier. I saw she had brought a candle, a simple white candle, the kind that you put in a candle stick. Clearly a much less expensive candle. She lit it and tried to hold it during the service while balancing her prayer book and hymnal. I noticed that wax was starting to drip on her hands and it seemed as if she was looking for a way to make it better while at the same time trying to ignore it and continue to pay attention to the service. Next thing you know the women next to me helped her out and they were able to drip wax on to the ground and created a stand for the candle. It stuck out to me as a very sweet simple act of kindness, the rest of the service is kind of a French blur.

I couldn’t help but think of the older woman for much of the rest of my time in Haiti Her simple genuine presence at the church. I could only imagine why she was coming to the church. What was she searching for, what she was praying for, what she was thankful for? I wished to know what her story was and was sorry for my inability to have a conversation with her.