Two priests were abducted in recent weeks in Haiti, a country in the midst of a deep crisis. While one of them managed to escape after several days in the hands of his kidnappers, the other was released on 23 March.
“When will this spate of violence end?”, asks Father Dudley Pierre, superior of Father Médidor – from the community of the Clerics of Saint-Viator –who was kidnapped on 11 March and released almost two weeks later, on 23 March.
In a message sent to Archbishop Max Leroy Mésidor of Port-au-Prince, which was also sent to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the provincial describes the attack which took place on the morning of Saturday 11 March, near the community’s residence, on the outskirts of Croix-des-Bouquets. Father Jean-Yves Médidor was leaving the house went it happened. “As he closed the gate, one of our guards saw masked men chase Fr Jean-Yves. Later, we realised that there were other vehicles waiting by the junction.”
Faced with this “painful and outrageous” event, the provincial of the Clerics of Saint Viator uses terms such as “violence” and “anarchy” to describe the “dark hour” the country is experiencing.
Another priest escapes to freedom
The kidnapping of Fr Jean-Yves took place just weeks after another priest, Cameroonian Fr Antoine Christian Noah, managed to escape unharmed from the criminals who had kept him in captivity for 10 days. Aged 33, the Claretian priest was returning to Haiti on 7 February, from a retreat in the Dominican Republic, when he was captured. However, he says he managed to escape in a Hollywood-like manner by making a hole in the roof of the house where he was being detained. The escape attempt was successful and after reaching safety the priest was transferred to another country.
Speaking of the days during which he was in captivity, Father Fausto Cruz Rosa, superior of the Claretians, says that “he was never afraid, because he prayed to his patron”, Saint Anthony of Padua, and to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. “He is a man of prayer, very spiritual, very serene. The kidnappers were surprised at how a priest could handle it, because over the ten days they only fed him four times, and gave him a bit of water”, the head of the Claretians in Haiti adds.
Climate of insecurity
These episodes illustrate the climate of great instability and insecurity that Haiti is experiencing. The United Nations estimate that there were over 1,300 kidnappings last year alone, and over 2,000 murders. The situation has become particularly dire since July 2021, when President Jovenal Moïse was murdered. This violence, which is dragging the country even further into poverty, was denounced during the “Night of Witness”, organised by ACN in France on 17 January. Sister Marjorie Boursiquot was present at the event and explained that “every day there are murders, rapes and robberies”, and that to some extent 2021 stands out in this environment of insecurity, to the extent that she describes the year as a “dark page”.
“We witnessed an unprecedented level of violence between gangs, the murder of President Jovenal Moïse, another earthquake – the second in a decade – that killed 2,500 people, a health system that is on the verge of collapse and dramatic levels of food insecurity”.
Remembering Sister Dell’Orto
With the country overrun by armed gangs, nobody feels safe anywhere and not even the Church has escaped this wave of violence. “Everyone, somehow, is a victim of this situation. There have been cases of kidnappings in the Church”, says Sister Marjorie Boursiquot, pointing to the situation of the Italian Sister Luisa Dell’Orto, who belonged to the Little Sisters of the Gospel and was murdered in June last year, during a robbery in Port-au-Prince. “Here was a sister who really gave all of herself during 20 years of service to the poor children in one of the slums of the capital. Her death was a shock to us all.”
Sister Marjorie adds that “many parishes in more lawless areas had to shut their doors due to the threats of the criminals” and says that sometimes “criminals even enter some religious institutions and kill and kidnap at will. Things are very complicated, but we will not give up”.