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Posted Thursday, July 19, 2007
Pilgrims flock to the healing waters of Haiti's Voodoo Virgin
By Clarens Renois, Agence France-Presse Writer

SAUT-D'EAU, Haiti (AFP) - By car, on donkeyback, and on foot by the thousands, observant Haitians travel each year to the waters of Saut d'Eau, a small village about 60 kilometers (35 miles) from Port-au-Prince, where pilgrims seek spiritual comfort, physical healing and answers to their prayers.

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Haitians bathe in a waterfall 16 July, 2007 during a Voodoo pilgrimage and festival of the Miracle Virgin of Saut D'Eau in Saut D'Eau, some 60 kilometers (40 miles) from the capital of Port-au-Prince, Haiti.(AFP/Thony Belizaire)

The town, famous for its picturesque waterfall, is the site of the annual July 16 feast of Mont-Carmel, where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared during the middle of the 19th century.

But Catholic pilgrims are not the only ones to worship here at the town's church, where masses throng into the sanctuary to honor the Virgin. Many Haitians pay homage to her by her voodoo name Erzulie, in a melding of Catholic and African traditions.

Whatever they call her, the faithful who come to venerate the Virgin more often than not arrive with a wish-list in hand.

"Virgin, I have come to ask that you keep me safe from any evil plots that might befall me," was one prayer intoned by a young man carrying an floral bouquet as an offering.

Another petitioner holding a lit candle was far more cryptic, and his request more immediate.

"You already know what I need," went his prayer. "I can't come back tomorrow -- too many people."

Next to him, a woman carrying a lit candle carved into a gourd tosses a handful of peas onto the ground as an offering, casting her lot with the faithful who were there to honor the Virgin's voodoo incarnation.

In the town square, hundreds of pilgrims thronged the entrance of the church, and spilled into neighboring streets in every direction.

Beggars, the blind, and those with other handicaps held out their hands seeking alms and fought among themselves for the coins tossed out by the more fortunate visitors.

On a neighboring street, some pilgrims sought advice from a voodoo priest, who put himself into a trance to be able to give them a reading into their future.

Besides Saut d'Eau's church, the other main site where the annual feast is celebrated is at the waterfall that gives the town its name, just a few kilometers outside of the town.

Ruben and Lambert, cousins, each about 40 years old, walked for miles to visit the "magical waters" the waterfall is known for.

"To come on foot is to have faith that after the suffering will come a reward," the men explained.

The steep slope of the cascade doesn't dissuade some determined pilgrims from trying to climb to its summit to immerse themselves in the water at its source.

One woman named Maldina attempts to scale the slope after having prayed for the virgin to stir the guilty conscience of "the father of her nine-year old son who lives in the United States, and who doesn't take care of the boy."

Many of the faithful leave behind a bottle of perfume, an article of clothing, a shoe or other personal object as an offering.

Before returning to their own towns and villages, believers can spend hours in the the waters of Saut d'Eau.

Some fall into a trance, their arms raised toward heaven, exposed to the spurting water as it falls down the cascade, or lying in the stream at its base, hoping that some of the water's legendary good luck will wash over them.

Copyright © 2007 Agence France Presse

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