“What do we say in Easter?” the Rev. Yves Eugene Joseph asked worshippers who on Sunday, Jan. 17, packed Eglise de la Nativite, a modest church in Montreal’s North that is home to Canadian Anglicans of Haitian origin. “We say, Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” This, he stressed, “is our faith.”
Through tears and sobs, the congregation responded with a chorus of “Amen. Hallelujah!”
It was an emotional scene that left the diocesan bishop of Montreal, Barry Clarke, in awe of the “tremendous resilience” of the community that had just five days ago received the tragic news that a devastating earthquake had hit Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, and left more than 200,000 dead and millions other homeless.
“I didn’t realize how powerful the impact of it has been on me personally,” said Bishop Clarke, who celebrated a French and Creole Eucharist at La Nativite and spent time talking to the people on the pews. “There’s a real sense of faith and courage in the midst of a great tragedy. And yet, there is hope.”
There were, of course, “mixed emotions,” in the room, said Bishop Clarke. A sense of relief for some who received news that their relatives had survived, a terrible grief for others, who had been told that their loved ones had died, and anxiety for those who have not received any news at all.
There are more than 80,000 Canadians of Haitian origin and they are the 10th largest non-European community in the country, according to Statistics Canada. Over 83 per cent of them live in Montreal, where they represent two per cent of the city’s population. Canadian Anglicans of Haitian descent are a small but tight knit community, and they have worshipped together since the 1970s.
In his homily, Bishop Clarke assured the congregation that they were not alone. “We are bound by one humanity; We are one,” he said.
He noted that Anglicans in the diocese have been quick to respond to a call for donations made by the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF), the Anglican Church of Canada’s relief and development arm, he said. Four parishes, including La Nativite, have together raised $7,000 this week, he said.
This Friday, a regular Bible Study Session will be equipped with grief counselors, to help parishioners who have come to seek solace in the church. La Nativite has no parish priest at the moment, but a Haitian Canadian priest from the diocese, Rev. Yves Eugene Joseph, along with other local priests, has been around to help the community. Joseph, who has just finished basic training at the Canadian Forces is also on standby to go with the Canadian troops in Haiti as a military chaplain, said Bishop Clarke.
Meanwhile, PWRDF has released an additional $35,000 in response to an appeal made by Action by Churches Together (ACT), a global coalition of church-based agencies working in emergencies worldwide, of which it is a member. ACT’s Rapid Response Program is working round-the-clock in Port-au-Prince.
PWRDF said it welcomes donations for the response. Contributions can be made by calling PWRDF staff, Jennifer Brown, (416) 924-9192, ext. 320, or 1-866-308-7973. Cheques can be made payable to PWRDF-Haiti Earthquake, and mailed to PWRDF, Anglican Church of Canada, 80 Hayden St., Toronto, ON, M4Y 3G2. Donations can also be made online at the CanadaHelps website.