by Margarita Mooney Suarez on March 26, 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.”