Five priests, two nuns and three laypersons were kidnapped in Haiti on Divine Mercy Sunday (April 11) while they were on their way to the installation of a new pastor at a parish. Three of the priests are members of the Society of Priests of Saint-Jacques (SPSJ) and one of the sisters and the three laypersons were members of the family of the priest to be installed as pastor. The priests were taken to the commune of Croix-des-Bouguets, northeast of Port-au-Prince. According to the Haitian news service Juno7, the kidnappings were carried out by the 400 Wawozo gang of criminals, and a ransom of $1 million was demanded for the group’s release. Kidnappings have become almost a daily occurrence in Haiti, many carried out by criminal gangs vying for dominance, but the government has not been above suspicion in some incidents. Also last Sunday, an armed gang invaded an orphanage in Port-au-Prince, murdering a guard and raping or sexually assaulting three employees.
On April 15, eleven Catholic bishops presided at a “Mass for the freedom of Haiti” at a suburban parish outside Port-au-Prince. After the Mass, a procession was led by the bishops and priests while the congregation began to chant political slogans calling on the government to restore order and bring a stop to the atrocities of gang violence. Outside the church, police fired tear gas at those assembled for the Mass, claiming that they were attempting to stop a riot and that those attending the Mass had set a car on fire. A spokesperson for the bishops’ conference said after the Mass, “The Church is asking for everyone to remain calm so that we can return to the route of democracy and development.”
Haiti has descended into violence while facing a constitutional crisis. Haitian president Jovenel Moise has refused to leave office, though constitutional experts say his term ended on February 7, 2021. Moise insists that his term as president does not end until 2022 because he did not assume office until 2017 after a controversial run-off election in 2015. Rather than leave office peaceably, Moise has had opposition leaders arrested, claiming that they were attempting a coup. At that time, the bishops’ conference encouraged Moise to leave office and issued a statement: “Death, murders, lawless impunity and insecurity have become part of daily life for Haitians. Discontent is widespread, in almost all areas. Some of the issues are almost impossible to manage. … At the heart of this recurring socio-political and economic crisis, fueled by the poison of hatred and mistrust, it is preferable to seek and find consensus on any thorny issue; this must be built through social and institutional dialogue to avoid disasters.” The bishops have accused the government of doing nothing to resolve the violence.
In response to the kidnappings last Sunday, the bishops instructed churches in Haiti to ring their bells at noon on Thursday and directed that all schools, universities, and other Catholic institutions, excepting those that provide healthcare or direct service to the poor, stay closed. Catholic businesses also closed for the day.
Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas and has suffered decades of social and political turmoil and violence. You can go here to learn how to support the work of Catholic Relief Services in Haiti.
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