Thousands stood before the evangelical Christian church in Port-au-Prince’s centre, swaying from left to right, their arms in the air, smiling and exchanging glances.
A few competed against each other in dance, others formed a conga line, singing and clapping their hands.
“Satan had a bad thought,” and “J E S U S Jesus!” they sang, led by the evangelists at the Shalom Church Tabernacle of Glory, accompanied by guitars and drums.
On some stairs, one woman danced alone.
“It does me good to dance, to pray. It eases the stress. When I’m here, I forget about everything,” said Suze Pierre.
The spectacle unfolded on the Champs de Mars plaza, where people seemed momentarily and completely oblivious to the misery and stench surrounding them.
They moved from prayer to dance just next to the site where some 10 000 survivors have set up a massive open-air campsite in nightmarish conditions, opposite the now crumbled National Palace.
Grace, pardon us.
The ceremony on Saturday was the first official religious service to be organised in the centre of Port-au-Prince since the January 12 earthquake, which killed at least 112 000 people.
Pastor Andre Muscadin said prayers were offered to chase away the spirits some Haitians believe were transported to their country from Africa along with slaves, and also to offer repentance and seek forgiveness for the violence that has been committed throughout the country’s troubled past.
“All the spirits in the Palace must disappear,” he shouted to the crowd, which responded with a long cry directed at the crumpled edifice, a once-gleaming white building that has become a symbol of the destruction wrought by last week’s 7.0-magnitude quake.
“When a Haitian has sinned, all the world has sinned. Grace, grace, pardon us,” the evangelist continued. New cries rang out from the crowd as the faithful again lifted their arms into the air.
Some thought of their sins and those of others.
“My husband is a voodoo priest, he prepares food for the devil,” said Marinatha Felix, trembling slightly.
“Political leaders make sacrifices to protect their posts. Young girls are corrupted just to get a job,” said Dieunel Jean-Baptiste, a 33-year-old technician.
Muscadin, the pastor, counted off Haiti’s past wrongs: Duvalier’s dictatorship, the coups d’etat, the endemic violence, the tribal grudges with roots in Africa, the mismanagement, the underdevelopment.
“In this country, we have had bloody scenes, we have killed, burned, looted, kidnapped brothers. It’s the intolerance, the corruption. There has never been harmony,” he said.
“The earthquake has given us a wakeup call. Champs de Mars is telling us something: to come back to life we must think about Haiti again, we must seize this opportunity.”
Jean-Baptiste lifted his eyes from his Bible sceptically.
“I hope that people will not just pray because of the shock of the earthquake but that the country will have a spiritual and social revival,” he said.
For those in the crowd, those who have lost everything, the moment was simply a chance to lose themselves, even for a moment.
They danced, let loose, forgot, against the backdrop of swaying sheets made into makeshift tents.
“We have always said that the Haitian people cry, sing and dance,” a man in the crowd said. AFP