Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Religious Groups See Rise in Haiti Conversions; More Seek Spiritual Guidance after Quake, but Expert Warns That Haitians Have a Reputation for Switching Sides

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Religious Groups See Rise in Haiti Conversions; More Seek Spiritual Guidance after Quake, but Expert Warns That Haitians Have a Reputation for Switching Sides

Article excerpt

Byline: JEFF BRUMLEY

In addition to food, shelter and medical care, Haitians seem to have become increasingly hungry for spiritual sustenance since January's killer earthquake.

Officials from different denominations are reporting a doubling of attendance of religious services since the Jan. 12 temblor and say tens of thousands are declaring their devotion to a higher power as a result.

"This is their 9/11," said Craig Culbreth, director of partnership missions for the Jacksonville-based Florida Baptist Convention.

Culbreth, whose job includes overseeing the convention's missions efforts in Haiti, said the response by people there "is just like we had after 9/11, where all the churches were filled up for three weeks."

As of late February, Baptist congregations across the island reported more than 40,000 "professions of faith" by Haitians since the magnitude-7 quake. Such professions are a declaration of belief in Jesus Christ, he said, and the trend has remained strong into March.

"They're coming in droves."

But that's creating problems for religious groups, too.

Leaders like Culbreth are concerned about their ability to follow up with religious education for newcomers. Teaching the basics of faith and discipleship is considered a vital step in keeping people coming back after conversion.

Others are working hard to find more pastors and teachers to minister to new and growing congregations.

Catholic News Service has reported that at least 70 Catholic parishes have been destroyed and another 30 chapels and missions must be rebuilt. It also said that seven priests and more than 60 other religious leaders were killed. Plus, thousands of parishioners are scattered about the island, leaving pastors trying to find them in tent cities.

Since the quake, "the attendance to Catholic services has also been up, but due to large displacements, there have been many difficulties in the organization of pastoral activities," Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the papal nuncio to Haiti, told The Times-Union in an e-mail. …

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