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Haitian Clergy Mourned at Funeral Mass

By Michael Hill

Donate NowLeaders of Catholic Relief Services joined mourners at the funeral Mass of Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot of Port-au-Prince, who died in the January 12 earthquake.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, chairman of the board of Catholic Relief Services, was a celebrant at the Mass, held Saturday, January 23.

More than 1,000 people came to the grounds of Port-au-Prince's cathedral and gathered in front of two coffins holding the remains of two Haitian clergy, Archbishop Miot and Monsignor Charles Benoit, the vicar general. Among the mourners were CRS President Ken Hackett; Sean Callahan, CRS' executive vice president for overseas operations; CRS Haiti Country Representative Karel Zelenka; and Monsignor David Malloy, general secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Archbishop Dolan greets fellow clergy prior to the funeral of archbishop Joseph Serge Miot and vicar Charles Benoit

Archbishop Timothy Dolan, right, greets fellow clergy prior to the funeral Mass for Port-au-Prince's Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot and vicar general Monsignor Charles Benoit. Photo by Sara A. Fajardo/CRS

Mourners stood under a sun that blazed down on the devastated capital city, where it is now confirmed that more than 100,000 people died.

Dolan read a message on behalf of Chicago Cardinal Francis E. George, president of the USCCB. "The Church in the United States stands with you," the statement said.

"In our prayer, we recall that Jesus, too, wept before the tomb of one whom he loved," said the cardinal's message. "With you, we recall in trust that he is the resurrection and the life, offering himself to us and calling us to himself, even in our darkest hour. "
The cardinal also said the Catholic Church in the United States was committed to "doing everything we can so that you may rebuild and renew and begin again your lives of faith and family and service to Haiti. From the first days after the earthquake, our representatives of Catholic Relief Services have labored to bring food, water, medicine and hope."

Behind the mourners—in full view of the Mass celebrants—were the ruins of Port-au-Prince's impressive cathedral, destroyed in the quake. Many Haitians were celebrating Mass and died there when the quake struck. A statement from Caritas, the Church's organization of humanitarian aid agencies, said that Monsignor Benoit's body was found in the cathedral ruins. Archbishop Miot was killed when he fell from a balcony at his nearby residence when the quake struck.

A brass band played as the mourners gathered in the palm tree–studded grounds, kept in order by a troop of Boy Scouts. When the funeral began, some of the smartly dressed scouts joined other mourners in finding seats on pieces among the church ruins. Many in the crowd clutched handkerchiefs as they huddled under umbrellas warding off the strong sun. During the ceremony, an occasional wail of grief arose from the mourners.

Nepthalie Miot, a niece of the archbishop who was at the funeral, choked back tears as she told USAToday, "He was a very compassionate person. He tried to help the poor."

Among the many celebrants was Bishop Thomas Wenski of Orlando, representing the USCCB Secretariat for Latin America. Bishop Wenski, who attended the 1997 installation of Archbishop Miot in the now-ruined cathedral, said before he left for Haiti that the funeral Mass, "symbolically marks the funerals for all the numbers of countless people who have died under the rubble or are buried in unmarked graves."

After the two-hour service, Archbishop Dolan joined the procession that would bury Archbishop Miot in a cemetery about an hour's drive from Port-au-Prince. Hackett left to visit CRS relief workers at St. Francois de Sales Hospital and at food distribution sites around the city.

"It was symbolic to have it in the courtyard of the damaged cathedral," Hackett said after the service. "That helped in the grieving process. That's what faith can bring to you, when people are traumatized and grieving they can turn to their faith."

Learn more about CRS' response to the earthquake in Haiti.

Michael Hill is CRS' communications officer for sub-Saharan Africa. He is based at the agency's headquarters in Baltimore.

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