We’re all asking
the theodicy question. How could one -even person of solid faith in Providence–not
ask why natural evil happens and why God permits it. In a recent interview
Zenit asked the head of the Papal Charitable office, Cor Unum, Josef Cardinal
Cordes, about the Haitian earthquake. As a first glance at the matter the Cardinal names something important, namely, if you claim to understand God, then your claim has nothing to do with the personal God of Christianity and that the Christian continues to believe God’s goodness in the face of suffering. Hard ideas to grasp. BUT it is a beginning.
ZENIT: How much does people’s faith help
them through a catastrophe such as this?
Cardinal Cordes: The faith of the
people who have suffered in this disaster will play a critical role in not only
bringing relief to their physical injuries and losses, but also in addressing
the spiritual dimension and meaning to be found in such a catastrophe. In
visiting disaster areas before and talking with survivors, many express their
gratitude to God for sparing their lives and for the generous outpouring of
assistance made available to them by family, friends, neighbors, and Churches
worldwide. Because of the large Catholic population (80% of Haitians are
Catholics), faith and the concrete presence/witness of the Church will have a
very important role in the present tragedy.
Our Pontifical Council Cor Unum had
already planned that the next meeting of the Populorum Progressio Foundation
would take place in Santo Domingo this coming July. The foundation, established
by Pope John Paul II, is to help the indigenous peoples of the Latin American
and Caribbean countries. In the past, we have given much help to Haiti and we
shall continue to do so. Of course, our spiritual closeness is of primary
importance. We shall be certain to celebrate the Holy Eucharist on that occasion
with bishops coming from different countries of Latin America and the
Without faith, this tragedy would turn into a complete disaster.
That is why it will be essential for our brothers and sisters to pray together;
experience Christians worldwide sharing their burdens as members of God’s
family; know the compassion of our Holy Father. All these become sources of
hope and energy. In His first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, Pope
Benedict invites us to recall “St. Augustine who gives us faith’s answer
to our sufferings: ‘Si comprehendis, non est Deus’ — ‘if you understand him,
he is not God.'” The Holy Father adds: “Even in their bewilderment
and failure to understand the world around them, Christians continue to believe
in the ‘goodness and loving kindness of God’ (Titus 3:4)” (No. 38).
Will good come from this tragedy?
Cardinal Cordes: This is a disaster that has
caused immense loss of life and suffering. Many years will be needed for the
nation to be rebuilt physically and the people to recover in their spirits. For
this reason, the Church must remain present even as others move away.
already we see good rising from the ruins. The eyes of the world are being open
to the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, whose long suffering was all
but forgotten. This tragedy shows that we depend on each other and must care
for our suffering brothers and sisters, just as we did during the Tsunami and
Hurricane Katrina. So we must ensure that the necessary assistance now being
shown to Haiti continues in the long-term, for example through setting up
better local Caritas structures and links with government development
ministries of wealthier countries and help agencies.
We are witnessing and
hearing of many selfless and heroic acts made to save lives and to rescue those
in danger. There are still thousands of others, who, coming from all over
the world and without any accolades, are dedicating themselves to helping
whoever is in need. People are being moved to give of themselves spiritually
and materially to help the poor and suffering. In the coming days and weeks, I
am convinced that we shall encounter in the midst of this catastrophe many
examples of goodness.
Above all, it is with trustworthy hope in the Crucified
and Risen Lord Jesus that Christians face the present. In his encyclical Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict speaks of the sufferings of this moment
being borne through hope in the future. It is not that Christians know the
details of what awaits them, but they know in general terms that their life
will not end in emptiness: “Only when the future is certain as a positive
reality does it become possible to live the present as well” (Spe Salvi, 2).