Vigil: Voicing compassion for Haiti
On the evening of Wednesday, January 27, students, faculty, and others from the Brown and nearby communities gathered at the steps of Manning Hall to pray and reflect.
Port-au-Prince has neither port nor prince,
As tempests incessantly sweep through,
1804’s bright filament becomes faint and sad,
Dimming like a dying firefly. Life mocks us
With sadistic laughter. I feel burdened by death
Losses and corpses swarming in my chest.
Those words of Professor Patrick Sylvain drifted over the crowd, misty breath illuminated by candlelight. Sylvain, a Haitian-American writer, educator, poet, and visiting professor in Latin American studies, recited the last stanza of his “Ports of Sorrow” to dozens huddled close in front Manning Chapel on a chilly Thursday evening.
“The vigil is a opportunity for the Brown community to come together to give a common voice to our care and compassion for Haiti,” said the Rev. Nancy Hamlin Soukup, program and pastoral associate in the Office of Chaplains and Religious Life. “It’s important to act and pull together in concerted prayer, meditation, whatever people do, to feel a common bond and to pray for the thousands who died and are suffering.”
Speakers included Matthew Gutmann, vice president for international affairs and co-chair of the Brown Haiti Crisis Response Committee; Delphain Demosthenes, pastor of Memorial Baptist Church of Seekonk, Mass.; and Francoise Hamlin, assistant professor of history and Africana studies.
Those who attended shared a bond of caring and solidarity. “It always says something about the compassion of people who can care so much — and without a [direct] connection basically, besides the most basic,” said Ramsey Jeremie ’12. “It’s really outstanding.”
For those directly affected by the tragedy, the impact has run deep. “It’s losing not only your home, but your whole city and community,” said Jeremie, whose family in Haiti lost everything. “When you think about people there, you feel blessed, but at the same time [you feel] pain and guilt.”
University Chaplain Janet Cooper Nelson hopes the vigils will serve as a reminder and a form of encouragement for busy students, faculty, staff, and community members to help Haiti. “It’s a statement of conscience, a statement on behalf of the University — we’re not just the people studying behind the gates,” she said. “Together we have a moral obligation.”
The sponsoring offices plan to host additional services throughout the semester. Information will be posted on the University events calendar. The Office of the Chaplains and Religious Life is located on the fourth floor of J. Walter Wilson and is available to assist students. “We’re not in this for the short haul,” Nelson said.
“Ports of Sorrow” was recited by Sylvain on PBS’s NewsHour with Jim Lehrer as its featured “Weekly Poem.”