Washington Haitian community gathers for Mass in Silver Spring

By Annie Gowen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 15, 2010; 9:23 PM

Therese Ridore arrived weeping to Mass for the local Haitian community in Silver Spring on Friday evening.

She had just heard from relatives in Port-au-Prince that her sister and two young sons were alive but still trapped in a collapsed building. Rescue workers could not reach them.

"My sister and two sons are still buried in the rubble. They are able to talk to them but they say it is impossible to get to them," the Silver Spring resident, 55, said through tears. The boys are only 11 and 4, she said.

About 200 or so members of the local Haitian community came to the Mass at St. Camillus Catholic Church in Silver Spring to grieve lost loved ones, embrace and offer words of comfort and support in the aftermath of Haiti's devastating earthquake. The Mass was in French and the choir did a rousing Creole "Alleluia" with piano and percussion.

Officials at the Catholic diocese of Washington had learned only hours before that one of their priests who had been missing survived the disaster. The Rev. Arsene Jasmin, the head of Haitian outreach for the diocese, had gone to Haiti earlier in the week for a retreat and to visit relatives. He is well known among the mostly Catholic Haitian community here because he regularly says Mass in Creole at three local churches.

"It's an enormous relief, but unfortunately the news is not the same for so many others in the Haitian community," said Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl, who was on hand to co-celebrate. "We are saying to them: You can't let this tragedy overwhelm you. The Haitians have a wonderful saying, 'God is good.' We have to remind ourselves of that."

The diocese will donate $100,000 to Catholic relief efforts as well as collect additional funds Sunday at all 140 churches, Wuerl said.

Many of those present were still awaiting words from loved ones and still in shock from the television pictures of the devastation.

"If you have a human heart, you should be concerned," said Raymonde Anglade, 45, a registered nurse from Bowie.

In the back pew, Marie Augustin, 67, a Hyattsville resident and nanny, fingered the wooden beads on a rosary and said the Mass was a welcome respite from awaiting word from her brother and sister in Haiti, whom she could not locate. She was hoping they could call when electricity is restored.

"I am worried because a lot of people died," she said. She gave a slight smile and pointed to her heart. "But my feeling told me they're alive."

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