Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Gone but Not Forgotten: Praying for the Dead Is a Catholic Way of Saying Life Goes On

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Gone but Not Forgotten: Praying for the Dead Is a Catholic Way of Saying Life Goes On

Article excerpt

THE JACKHAMMER BLAST OF GUNFIRE RIPPED ME from my sleep. Normally, late-night street sounds on Route de Delmas in Port-au-Prince, Haiti are no more alarming than the incessant barking of dogs or the crowing of sleepless roosters convinced that streetlights are the harbingers of the dawn. But a burst from an automatic rifle right out in the street with nothing between me and the guy pulling the trigger but my jammies and a thin cement wall snapped my eyes open like popcorn.

Although it had been only a little over a month since the bloody 1991 military coup led by General Raoul Cedras that ousted Haiti's first elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, my intrepid group from the Diocese of Norwich came anyway to celebrate the feast of All Saints and All Souls at our mission in the city.

It's a big holiday in Haiti, which is 75 percent Catholic. But for Haitians, taking care of the souls of the dearly departed carries added significance. You see, the traditional religion of Haiti, some say the real religion of these islanders, is what their slave ancestors brought along with them from Africa: voodoo. Not the pins-in-a-doll, zombie jamboree kind you see in movies--that's Hollywood--but a genuine faith in one God and a bunch of spirits, called loa, who take care of things. These loa, which include your dead relatives, can be very helpful when you need a friend, like a brother-in-law who works for the people who run the universe. So Haitians try to stay on the good side of their relatives, especially after they're dead.

I never took much interest in praying for the dead myself until Maria, the one person next to God who was deserving of all my love, lost control of her motorcycle and slammed into a guardrail. For the first time in my life there was somebody "out there" that I knew intimately who was going through whatever experience one goes through when you pass over to the other side. I hoped she was OK. I prayed she was OK. After all, despite my devotion to her, she wasn't perfect. Could her rough edges be worked out in the next life? Well, yeah. So I hoped, and so I prayed.

Praying for the dead, one of several Catholic traditions that dance like angels on the head of a single scriptural pin, evolved from 2 Maccabees 12:43-46. …

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