By Christie L. Chicoine
CS&T Staff Writer

PHILADELPHIA – On Jan. 12 a magnitude 7 earthquake hit Haiti, killing tens of thousands in the capital and largest city, Port-au-Prince, and injuring and displacing hundreds of thousands more.

“We come here this evening in grief and anguish, in deep solidarity with the suffering people of Haiti and with unbreakable hope in our loving and merciful God,” the Cardinal said in his homily at the Mass that acknowledged all victims of the earthquake Friday, Jan. 15, at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia.

“I lost my beloved daughter,” said Lourdvens Pierre, 41, who attended the Mass. One of the approximately 2,300 Haitian Catholics who live in the Philadelphia Archdiocese, Pierre had last spoken to his 9-year-old daughter, Sherline, when she called from Haiti to wish him a happy birthday Dec. 22.

Pierre, who has lived in the Archdiocese for close to two years and attends Mass at Incarnation of Our Lord Parish, learned of his daughter’s death from a cousin who called him from Haiti.

According to the cousin, Sherline was at home watching television when the earthquake struck.

Pierre is relying on his Catholic faith to help him reconcile his daughter’s death. “I love God,” Pierre said. “I know He’s going to bless all the family.”

Pierre is treasuring his memories of Sherline’s visit to Philadelphia last summer. They had had a particularly good time playing soccer in the park, he said. “She was very nice, she was very smart” and had ranked first in her class.

During the Cardinal’s Mass, Alex Joseph, 40, also a native of Haiti who moved to the Archdiocese 21 months ago, received a telephone call he believed could have been from his older sister, Junie, whom he had been trying to reach in Port-au-Prince since Jan 12.

The call abruptly ended, much to his dismay.

Members of the Haitian community provided him moral support as he waited for the phone to ring again in the Cathedral vestibule. The call he was hoping to receive never came.

Earlier, he had heard from another relative that his son, Alexandro, who turns 12 on Jan. 24, survived the earthquake.

However, in addition to waiting for news about his sister, Junie, her husband and their two children, Joseph was still wondering about the whereabouts of his younger brother, David, and a cousin.

“I’m happy I came here,” Joseph said of the Mass, which was celebrated in English and Haitian Creole. “I just wanted to pray in peace and quiet.”

As of Jan. 19 Joseph had learned that his relatives were safe.

The Cardinal also addressed the Haitian Catholic congregation in French.

“We know, dear friends, that even as our brothers and sisters in Haiti plead with God to rouse His power to help them and to let them see His face, they are counting also on the help of our prayers and our urgent assistance. It is part of God’s loving plan for human solidarity to reveal His face through ours and to exercise His power through our generosity and collaboration,” continued the Cardinal.

“The only human power that can match and far surpass the devastating force of the natural disaster that has struck the beloved Haitian people is the power we have both to pray and to show compassionate solidarity with the afflicted,” he added.

One of Cardinal Rigali’s concelebrants at the Mass was Father Albert Gardy Villarson, O.M.I., chaplain of the Haitian Apostolate in the Philadelphia Archdiocese in residence at Incarnation of Our Lord Parish in North Philadelphia.

A priest of the Oblate Missionaries of Mary and a native of Haiti, Father Villarson, 46, is mourning the earthquake-related death of Haitian Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot, who in the late 1980s served as one of his seminary professors. “He was a loved teacher,” Father Villarson said.

At 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 16, Haitian Catholics gathered for a prayer service at Incarnation Church, which Father Villarson led.

He has been encouraging the Haitian Catholic community to keep the faith which, he said, they are.

“We need God’s grace to help us,” Father Villarson said.

A collection will be taken up in churches across the Philadelphia Archdiocese at Masses this weekend, Jan. 23-24, to aid relief efforts in Haiti. All funds donated by parishioners will be forwarded to Catholic Relief Services, the official international relief and development agency of the U.S. Catholic community.

The Cardinal is appealing to all Catholics of the Archdiocese “to show the maximum measure of generosity in contributing to this cause of Haitian relief and assistance.”

In conjunction with the 267 parishes of the Archdiocese, students at archdiocesan Catholic schools are taking up a collection for the relief efforts, which will be remitted to Catholic Relief Services.

Students at Conshohocken Catholic Elementary School quickly raised $1,181 for the cause when they learned Jan. 13 that a Sister of St. Joseph – who is a contemporary of a fifth grade teacher and religious sister at Conshohocken Catholic – was taking a pre-scheduled trip to the Dominican Republic on Jan. 14.

The school sent letters home to parents asking for donations of any kind.

For more information, visit the web site of Catholic Relief Services at or call 1-877-HELP-CRS (1-877-435-7277.)

CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine may be reached at 215-587-2468 or