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ZENIT: The Spiritual Side of the Suffering in Haiti

Tragedy Can Lead to Increased Faith in God

By Carl Anderson

NEW HAVEN, Connecticut, JAN. 18, 2010 (Zenit.org).- All of us have been horrified in recent days by the scenes of death and destruction in Haiti. Millions of us have sought way to alleviate the suffering there. No doubt thousands of homilies will be given in the coming days to help us understand how a loving God could allow such suffering.

One of the more controversial "explanations" in the United States came from a Protestant evangelist who stated that Haiti had been "cursed" ever since its founders had "sworn a pact with the devil" to achieve the nation's independence from France. His comments, as one might expect, caused a storm of controversy.

Certainly there is ample evidence in the Old Testament of nations being punished by God for idolatry and injustice and some Christians continue to look to this Old Testament history for explanations of world events.

But Catholics today are more likely to look in a different direction to understand how God deals with human sinfulness. And they need look no further than at the crucifix above the altar in their church. God has freely and lovingly united himself with human suffering in the sacrifice of his Son upon the cross.

Those evangelists who so often quote John 3:16 in their preaching might also remember what is said in the next verse: "God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved."

The tragedy in Haiti is likely to have long-lasting effects, not only for the people who have lost loved ones there, but for an entire generation that has witnessed its destruction. And it is important that we get the right understanding of what has occurred there.

Many news reports compare Haiti to the recent devastation of Hurricane Katrina in the U. S. Gulf Coast, or the 1985 Mexico City earthquake. But the tragedy in Haiti is more likely to have a long-term psychological impact closer to that of the Lisbon earthquake of 1755. That earthquake was followed by a tsunami and fire that destroyed nearly the entire city and killed nearly a million people.

The catastrophe in Lisbon changed the thinking of many of the leading intellectuals of the 18th century including Voltaire, Kant and Descartes. The earthquake occurred on the feast of All Saints in a predominately Catholic country and it caused many Christians throughout Europe to question their belief in God.

In the days to come we may see something similar. And so Haiti is today a test of our faith in God and our commitment to our fellow man.

In thinking about Haiti this week I could not help thinking also of the work of Father Damien of Molokai "the Leper Priest" who was canonized last autumn by Benedict XVI. Several years ago I had the opportunity to visit Molokai in Hawaii, and while visiting the parish church there I saw a photograph of an elderly woman taken in the 1930s. She had lost her ears and nose, and all her toes and fingers to leprosy. She was also blind. Yet every day, I was told, she prayed the rosary by holding the beads between her teeth.

Not long after that, I was speaking with a missionary priest who mentioned that he had opened a home for people suffering from leprosy. Each day as he celebrates Mass there, an elderly man, also blind from the disease, says during the prayer of the faithful, "Father, God, thank you for all the good things you have given me."

Philosophers and theologians will continue to search for explanations in the hope of answering the questions we all have concerning the problem of suffering in the world. But perhaps the best answer comes from those whose suffering goes beyond what we are able to imagine, and yet these believers experience the reality that God has united himself to them in their suffering.

In his homily during the canonization Mass of Father Damien, Benedict XVI said this: "Jesus invites his disciples to the total giving of their lives, without calculation or personal gain, with unfailing trust in God. The saints welcome this demanding invitation and set about following the crucified and risen Christ with humble docility.

"Their perfection, in the logic of a faith that is humanly incomprehensible at times, consists in no longer placing themselves at the center, but choosing to go against the flow and live according to the Gospel."

Ultimately, this is the key to understand the events of Molokai and Haiti. And it will be the measure of our response as Christians.

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Carl Anderson is the supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus and a New York Times bestselling author.


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