Religious Haitians see hand of God in earthquake

Port-Au-Prince, Haiti - Deeply religious Haitians see the hand of God in the destruction of Biblical proportions visited on their benighted country. The quake, religious leaders said Sunday, is evidence that He wants change.

Exactly what change He wants depends on the faith: Some Christians say it's a sign that Haitians must deepen their faith, while some Voodoo followers see God's judgment on corruption among the country's mostly light-skinned elite.

And then there's American evangelist Pat Robertson, who said Wednesday that Haiti had been cursed by a pact he said its slave founders made with the devil two centuries ago to overthrow their French rulers and become the world's first black republic. The White House called his remarks "stupid."

As desperate believers gathered to pray Sunday across the shattered capital, the Rev. Eric Toussaint told a congregation gathered outside the ruined cathedral that the earthquake "is a sign from God, saying that we must recognize his power."

Haitians, he said, "need to reinvent themselves, to find a new path to God."

Some followers of Voodoo, practised alongside Roman Catholicism by the vast majority of Haitians, said the devastation of key symbols of power was punishment for corrupt leaders who have allowed the mostly light-skinned elite to enrich themselves while the black majority suffers.

"If all of a sudden, in 15 seconds, 20 seconds, all the physical representations of corruption are destroyed, it gives you pause for thought," said Richard Morse, a renowned Haitian-American musician whose mother was a singer and revered Voodoo priestess. "The Justice Ministry: down. The National Palace: down. The United Nations headquarters: down."

Unharmed by the quake was the famed bronze statue, "Le Maron Inconnu" - "the Unknown Escaped Slave" - noted Morse, who owns the Oloffson Hotel featured in Graham Greene's novel "The Comedians."

The destruction of every major Catholic church in the capital, including the 81-year-old cathedral, also was a sign, he said: "When there is all this corruption going on, whose role is it in society to speak out? Isn't the Church supposed to say something?"

Most Haitians are Christian - largely Catholic with a small but growing number of Protestants. But most also practice Voodoo, which along with Catholicism is an official state religion.

Several people were seen issuing apocalyptic warnings on the streets Sunday, including a man standing in front of the collapsed National Palace shouting: "Redeem yourselves! The end of the world is near!"

But Morse noted that Haitians are already very religious. His countrymen may suffer many ills, but "when it comes to spiritual strength, Haiti is one of the richest nations in the world."

And in that sense, the earthquake seems to have been counterproductive in terms of salvation.

"How could He do this to us?," cried Remi Polevard, who said his five children lie beneath in the rubble of a home near St. Gerard University. "There is no God."

Sunday night, as downtown residents began burning some of the bodies that have been rotting on the streets for five days, a woman walking by in an orange dress pulled out a copy of the Bible.

She flung it into the fire.