Haitians fearful for the safety of loved ones back home after this week's devastating earthquake prayed, held hands and wept at a Creole-language Mass last night at St. Anne's Roman Catholic Church in Brentwood.
Emotions ran high at the service, one of several that the Diocese of Rockville Centre holds each week for Long Island's sizable community of Haitian Catholics.
"I know in all this that God is present," said the Rev. Jean Laguerre, who led the service instead of the church's pastor, the Rev. Eden Jean-Baptiste - who is among the thousands of people missing in the wake of Haiti's biggest quake in 200 years.
"People who have faith don't have bad experiences," Laguerre added. "Everything is grace; everything is a benediction. Let us thank God even for the dead bodies. Let us let God into our misery."
Jean-Baptiste, who heads the diocese's Haitian Apostolate, has not been heard from since he left New York earlier this week for a brief visit home.
Laguerre, 47, is visiting New York from Haiti. He said he has not been able to reach his family in Jacmel, about 80 miles from the capital.
"We can't get through," he said, though officials have said that Port-au-Prince was hardest hit. He said Jacmel, too, had been damaged.
Laguerre led the 40 or so congregants in song and prayer. They waved outstretched arms or stood, eyes closed, their palms upturned.
During quiet moments, some dabbed their eyes or stifled audible sobs.
A man near the back of the church broke into tears, overcome.
Midway through the Mass, Laguerre stepped back and wiped his own eyes with a blue handkerchief.
Helenie Cadet, who has been going to St. Anne's for more than 27 years, urged prayer for the victims. "We must pray to God for a towel to dry the tears of Haiti," Cadet said to the grieving congregation. "When Haiti is crying, we are all crying. All that we know is gone."
About 150 Haitians usually attend the Creole services at St. Anne's, said Maryse Emmanuel-Garcy, a longtime Haitian community activist who worshiped there before she moved to Nassau County.
"It's very important to have the Creole Mass," Emmanuel-Garcy said. "It's a different feeling. You feel more connected to pray in your language."
Marie Jionville, 52, of Central Islip, came with her husband as she does every week.
She is from Jeremie, west of the capital, but has sisters who live in Port-au-Prince. She tried calling them all day but could not get through.
"They need backup," she said. "There are so many people in the street."
Jionville said she was grateful for the help offered by the international community. She plans to pray for her family and for her missing pastor.
"I will pray for everyone," she said, raising a fist. "I've got faith."
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HOW TO HELP
* You can help immediately by texting "HAITI" to "90999" and a donation of $10 will be charged to your cell phone bill and given automatically to the Red Cross to help with relief efforts.
* Wyclef Jean, a rapper and hip-hop artist from Haiti, urged people to text "Yele" to 501501 to donate $5 toward earthquake relief. Yéle Haiti is a grassroots movement inspiring change in Haiti through programs in education, sports, the arts and environment, according to its Web site.
* The State Department Operations Center has set up the following number for Americans seeking information about family members in Haiti: 1-888-407-4747.
Other Web sites accepting donations include: