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Haitians hold day of mourning on quake anniversay

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Thousands of Haitians crowded churches in the capital Friday for a national day of mourning a month after the magnitude-7.0 earthquake killed more than 200,000 and left this Caribbean country struggling for survival.

Parishioners filled churches in Port-au-Prince’s Petionville suburb and set up loudspeakers so those in the streets could follow. Religious leaders gathered for an ecumenical ceremony near Haiti’s shattered National Palace to pay their respects to the dead.

Hymns and gospel music pumped throughout the city’s apocalyptic landscape of flattened concrete and sloping buildings.

“This day is about honoring all those we lost and looking toward the future,” said Percil St. Louis, 43, a Catholic. “We all need to come together as a nation.”

Those killed in the Jan. 12 quake included church leaders, missionaries and children studying at faith-based schools. The Roman Catholic archbishop of Port-au-Prince, Joseph Serge Miot, was among those who perished.

Leaders from all of Haiti’s major religions were taking part in the ecumenical ceremony, but it was only at the last minute that Voodoo priests were included. Voodoo leaders worried the Christian ceremony would fall short of rituals they usually perform when praying for the safe passage of souls in the spirit world.

Since the quake, some Voodoo followers have converted to Christianity, some enticed by steady aid flows through evangelical missions, others out of a fear of God.

“The earthquake scared me,” said Veronique Malot, a 24-year-old who said she joined an evangelical church two weeks ago when she found herself living in one of the city’s many outdoor camps. “Voodoo has been in my family but the government isn’t helping us. The only people giving aid are the Christian churches.”

Voodoo evolved in the 17th century when the French brought slaves to Haiti from West Africa. Slaves forced to practice Catholicism remained loyal to their African spirits in secret by adopting Catholic saints to coincide with African spirits. Today, many practice both religions in tandem.

Since the quake, Scientologists, Mormons, Baptists, Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses and other missionaries have flocked to Haiti in droves — feeding the homeless, treating the injured and preaching the Gospel in squalid camps where some 1 million people now live.

In many of the outdoor camps, trucks with loudspeakers blast evangelical music while missionaries talk to families under tarps.

The U.S. Agency for International Development channels hundreds of millions of dollars in overseas aid each year through faith-based groups, though there is no definitive tally of how much of the aid for Haiti comes through Christian groups.

© 2010 Associated Press. Displayed by permission. All rights reserved.

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