By Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 15, 2010; 4:47 PM
After three days of anxious waiting, word arrived from Haiti early Friday that the Catholic priest who heads outreach to the Haitian community in Washington is alive.
The Rev. Arsene Jasmin, 44, had gone to his native Haiti on Monday for a retreat, and no one here had heard from him since Tuesday's earthquake.
Most of the 10,000 to 20,000 Haitians in the region are Catholic, and Jasmin led the Masses at three parishes where services are held in Creole. Parishioners and archdiocesan officials described Jasmin as the community lynchpin, the person who in a time of crisis would be the primary organizer and spiritual bedrock.
Details were not immediately available, but parishioners happily described a fragmented chain of communication pieced together in the middle of the night.
Asta Antoine, a longtime parishioner at Sacred Heart Church in Columbia Heights, where Jasmin was based, said she received a call about 1:30 a.m. from someone in Miami who said a doctor in Haiti called with word that Jasmin was alright. The doctor also passed along word that the Rev. Andre Pierre, a Haitian priest who had served as a community leader in the Washington archdiocese until moving back home, was also alive.
"We are very blessed," Antoine said.
She said it was not known where Jasmin was at the time of the quake or whether he had been injured.
Kathy Dempsey, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said that the doctor was a friend of the priests and that the men were not believed to have been hurt.
The community labored this week to fill the gap left by Jasmin, with people pinch-hitting to organize community meetings, gather information about aid and put together a special Mass for Haiti.
The Mass, scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday at St. Camillus Church in Silver Spring, will be conducted in French and presided over by Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl. The Rev. Jean-Marie Kabango, a Congolese priest based at St. Camillus, will give the homily, and the church's multicultural choir will sing.
News of Jasmin's survival is a happy blip in a bleak picture, members of the community said.
"I'm not going to celebrate. We have thousands of dead bodies all over the damn place," said Jean Yves Point-du-Jour, a member of Sacred Heart Church who hosts a Creole radio show on Saturday nights on WPFW (89.3 FM). He said this week's show ("Kombit Lakay," which means, roughly, "Home Get-together") will be mostly in English to make sure all listeners can understand.