Ghosts in Haiti earthquake feature

Aggregation is an interesting thing.

For instance, the lead story on USA Today's Religion page right now is a heartwrenching feature about a father and daughter who suffered indescribable loss in the Haiti earthquake last year.

The top of the story:

MIAMI -- Ernst Leo is trying to recover from the unimaginable.

He has the trappings of a normal life: a new job, car and apartment. His daughter Therissa, 8, is flourishing in third grade.

Yet he can't escape the painful memories of his former life. The earthquake on Jan. 12, 2010, that destroyed Haiti's capital city, Port-au-Prince, killed his wife and childhood sweetheart, Naomie, and their daughter, Faitza, 12, when their apartment collapsed.

Therissa was trapped under the rubble for two days before she was rescued; her right arm had to be amputated.

Sitting in the living room of his parents' home, Leo, 35, says, "I feel well. But there are some things you can't forget what happened. So I have some pictures in my mind. I try to live with them.

"I'm trying to rebuild my life for myself and for Therissa."

Now, given the cyber-real-estate that this story occupies -- the Religion page -- a reader might assume that the piece has some kind of angle related to faith and values.

Then again, you know what can happen when you assume.

In fact, the piece skates around the edges of a faith peg -- religion ghosts, anyone? -- but never tackles the obvious, crucial questions.

This is a story that fails to get religion in an extraordinary way.

Readers learn that "church people" came to the father and daughter's aid after a previous USA Today feature on them:

The newspaper story brought him a small measure of fame and an even greater measure of help. Church groups and individuals sent him e-mails of support and cash assistance.

Among those who responded was Louie Giglio, pastor of the Passion City Church in Atlanta and founder of the Passion Movement, an annual Christian conference for university students.

Giglio was sitting on a plane at the Atlanta airport when he read about Leo and Therissa.

"It pierced my heart," he says. "I don't know how to solve Haiti's problems. I don't know how to even think about solving Haiti's problems. But I knew we could help Ernst Leo."

Then there's this mention:

Another church group, Calvary Chapel Kendall in Miami, helped with rides to the prosthetic specialist, money for car insurance and a makeover of Leo's one-bedroom apartment. They painted the bedroom, which Therissa uses, bright green and decorated it with Dr. Seuss books, stuffed animals and flowery bedspreads.

But what motivated the church people to act? What role did -- and does -- their faith play in their reaching out to these Haitians they had never met?

Really, these are simple questions for a Religion story. However, this report fails to answer -- or even to ask -- them.

As for the faith or religious background, if any, of the father and daughter, again, this report sees no need to provide such highly relevant information. This is as close as the story gets to that kind of insight:

His eyes fill with tears when he thinks about what Therissa has suffered, the nightmares she still has, and how much she misses her mother and sister. He doesn't know how to fill the gap.

"Now I am her mother and father," he says.

Did a human or a computer program make this the lead story on the Religion page?

Aggregation is an interesting thing.

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