Haitians protest in Port-au-Prince to demand Prime Minister Henry's resignation Haitians protest in Port-au-Prince to demand Prime Minister Henry's resignation  (ANSA)

Archbishop Mésidor: Haiti is on the verge of civil war

As Haiti plunges deeper into chaos, with gangs tightening their grip in the wake of last weekend's jailbreak, the President of the Haitian Bishops' Conference warns the country is drifting dangerously towards civil war, and says that gang violence is heavily affecting the Church.

By Lisa Zengarini

Haiti plunged further into anarchy this week as gangs continued to attack key government institutions and international airports, demanding that Prime Minister Ariel Henry resign.

The violence-torn nation entered a state of emergency last Sunday after armed groups broke thousands of inmates out of prison, while Mr. Henry was in Kenya seeking a deal for an international force to fight Haiti's gangs.

Heavy gunfire was reported on Friday, 8 March, near Haiti's national palace in its capital, Port-au-Prince, and during the night, several police stations and government buildings were assaulted. 

The unprecedented upsurge of violence, which followed the news that Mr. Henry had committed to holding elections in August 2025, has displaced tens of thousands, paralyzed the country, and left it with dwindling supplies of basic goods.

Scores of foreign citizens are currently stranded in Haiti, unable to leave the country under siege.  

Gangs have become an "organised army”

According to Archbishop Max Leroy Mésidor, of Port-au-Prince, who serves as the President of the Haitian Bishops' Conference, the country is on the verge of a civil war.

He told the papal foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) that Haitian police forces are powerless in the face of well-armed gangs that have become an “organised army” and that armed civilian vigilante groups have been formed to fight them.

Although some parts of the country are worse off than others, namely Port-au-Prince, “no place is really safe," the Archbishop said.

Kidnappings suffocating Haitian people

He confirmed that the Church has become one of the main targets of gang violence and widespread kidnappings. Kidnappings have become “a dictatorship," which is "suffocating the Haitian people," he said.

“There are kidnappings everywhere… Whether you are rich or poor, intellectual or illiterate, anyone can be kidnapped. It is a dictatorship, a plague that must be fought.”

Bishops bearing witness together

Life has also become extremely dangerous for the Haitian bishops, especially in gang-controlled areas like the capital, Port-au-Prince.  “But," said Archbishop Mésidor, "we try to work and bear witness together. It is not easy, but we must bear our cross and follow Christ, especially during this time of Lent.”

The violence has heavily affected the pastoral work of priests and religious in Haiti, as everyone lives in constant fear, and some parishes have even been forced to close. “I myself cannot visit two-thirds of my diocese because the roads are blocked,” Archbishop Mésidor said.

Our people want to live

Despite the hardships and dangers, the Haitian Church continues its work, showing great resilience. “Our people want to live," he said, noting that the Church’s main mission in Haiti is to keep hope alive and to encourage people, especially young people, not to give up.

Concluding the interview, the President of the Haitian Bishops' Conference remarked that without the aid of ACN, it would be very difficult for the Church in Haiti to function, as many Haitian parishes struggle financially to keep their activities going.

Aid to the Church in Need supporting the Church in Haiti

Over the past year, the papal foundation, which supports persecuted Christians around the world, has sponsored some 60 projects in the country.

They include training courses for seminarians, religious, catechists, and lay people; youth pastoral activities and aid to people forced to flee their homes, equipment for three diocesan radio stations; the installation of solar panels for the Haitian Bishops' Conference and the Archdiocese of Port-au-Prince; retreats and Mass stipends for priests; and, emergency aid for nuns.

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09 March 2024, 16:14