CAMBRIA HEIGHTS — For Haitian Americans and immigrants, Jan. 12 is a solemn day of remembrance.
Twelve years ago, a massive 7.0-magnitude earthquake shook their Caribbean-island homeland, killing more than 300,000 people, seriously injuring another 250,000, and leaving about 1.3 million people homeless.
The lives of those who died during the 2010 quake, were commemorated during an evening memorial Mass at Sacred Heart Church in Cambria Heights hosted by the Haitian Apostolate for the Diocese of Brooklyn.
Haitians and historians agree the aftermath of that quake set the stage for a spate of lawlessness and political corruption that has gripped the country for a dozen years. Another earthquake and the assassination of Haiti’s president, both last summer, have saddled the nation with even more misery.
Yet Haitian Catholics, who make up about 56% of the population — have relied on their faith as the nation contends with the ongoing strife.
Among the people who attended the Mass was Harold Dasque of Valley Stream, New York. He is a member of Queens-based Haitian Americans United for Hope, Inc., which works with Haitian immigrants. He said the organization has close ties with Sacred Heart Parish, so he often worships there.
“What happened in January of 2010 has affected so many people,” he said. “And yes, human beings continue to mess up and mismanage Haiti. But people only can rely on prayers to see if Haiti can ever change, because God is so powerful. He is in control.”
Father Hilaire Belizaire, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish and the director of the Haitian Apostolate, called it “a day of profound sadness.”
“We all have a relative, a friend, or know someone who was impacted by this tragic event,” he said.
But rays of light gradually illuminated the aftermath of the 2010 quake, according to Father Belizaire. He has previously recounted how then-Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio immediately dispatched Creole-speaking priests from the diocese to Haiti to assess needs and provide priestly comfort to the displaced people.
“It was the practical, down-to-earth support given by people from all nations which has struck us all,” he added. “Haiti became, at that moment, the place where God gathered all His people to work together.”