PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – With a large cross of ashes on his forehead, Peter Noel – head bowed and deep in prayer – leaned on the windowsill at the back of the chapel where Ash Wednesday Mass was concluding.
He was, he said, beginning a prayerful Lenten journey to “meet with God.”
Noel, 30, was among about 200 people who filled the personal chapel of the archbishop of Port-au-Prince and a small tented area outside the chapel’s front door March 8 to mark the beginning of Lent. The chapel has been used for public Masses for months because the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption was destroyed in the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake that leveled much of the Haitian capital.
The chapel was next to the residence of Archbishop Serge Miot, who was killed when the magnitude 7 jolt threw him from his balcony.
“The church is our strength,” Noel said after Mass as people milled under the tent that offered a bit of protection from the early morning heat March 9. “Lent is a season that allows us to pray so we can meet God in our life.”
Since last year’s earthquake, Lent has taken on new meaning, other churchgoers told Catholic News Service.
Deacon Virgile Charles, 80, who helped distribute ashes just before the offertory, said the quake led some people to become more prayerful. Lent, he said, allows survivors “to do their penance in remembrance of what happened.”
“They have to pray more,” he added.
Citiene Toussaint, 76, said he would be praying for all Haitians to “walk in the path of Christ and that a lot of us can find salvation” during Lent.
“When there are things related to leisure and pleasure, everybody’s there,” he said. “But when it’s time to celebrate Christ, there are fewer people.”
For 83-year-old Marie Merejenie Sanon, Lent is a time to share – only if she could, she said.
Sanon survived the earthquake because she was sitting outside of her home, which crumpled in the 35-second, late afternoon temblor that claimed more than 300,000 lives.
“If I could I would share everything,” she said. “But I lost everything.”
Using a cane to steady herself as she left Mass, Sanon joined friends for the walk to her new home with people who took her in near the cathedral. She said she was fortunate that she could remain in the same neighborhood despite its widespread destruction. A son lives in New Jersey and sends money to her, but it’s just enough for her to live on these days, she explained.
Looking at the people gathered around her, Sanon smiled.
“It’s a beautiful day,” she said.