'We give thanks to God!' says Haiti archbishop as six nuns are freed from captivity

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (OSV News) -- The six nuns kidnapped in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jan. 19 have been freed, and the archbishop of the capital was overjoyed and thankful at the news.

"We give thanks to God! Thank you for your support," Archbishop Max Leroys Mésidor of Port-au-Prince, president of the bishops' conference in Haiti, told Vatican News Jan. 25, the day their release was announced. He thanked all those who had "paid attention" and "offered support," the Vatican media service said.

Released with the sisters were those who were with them on the bus and the driver. The release followed the pope's Jan. 21 appeal for the release of the sisters and for "social harmony" on the troubled island.

The nuns were freed Jan. 24, the Archdiocese of Port-au-Prince confirmed to Aid to the Church in Need. In a statement sent to ACN, the archdiocese said that it "gives thanks to the Lord for the release of the six sisters and the other people kidnapped with them on Jan. 19. This traumatic event once again tested our faith, but it remains unshakeable.""God always hears the cries of the poor and frees the unfortunate from all his distress (Psalm 33:6-7). We cried unto him, he made us strong in trial, and he set our captives free. He will convert hardened hearts and free Haiti from all evil so that all its children will know the joy of freedom, which is priceless," the archdiocese wrote to ACN, adding that the Catholic Church "remains committed to helping them bring about an era of justice and peace in Haiti."

The Latin American bishops' council, CELAM, had announced Jan. 24 as a day of prayer for the release of the nuns, who are members of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Anne. CELAM includes the Caribbean bishops.

The women, along with other passengers were abducted by armed men while traveling on a bus in Port-au-Prince, according to the Haitian Conference of Religious. It is not clear who was responsible for the kidnapping, but it was suspected that it was the work of a gang."These many kidnappings fill the consecrated people of Haiti with sadness and fear," said the statement, signed by the conference's president, Father Morachel Bonhomme.

Pope Francis Jan. 21 appealed for the release of all the hostages, while praying for "social harmony" in the country. In remarks after the Angelus, he said he had "learned with sorrow the news of the kidnapping" of the sisters and the others. "I call on everyone to stop the violence, which causes so much suffering to that dear population."

Gangs control 80% of the capital. The location where the kidnapping took place is controlled by the Grand Ravine and Village de Dieu gangs. For some years now, the kidnapping of clergy by gangs has become a common occurrence.

Appeals for the sister's freedom came from many corners of the globe. CELAM's bishops, in a letter to the archbishop of Port-au-Prince, said Jan. 23 that "it is with great consternation and sadness that we are closely following the latest events in Haiti, especially the kidnapping of eight people on Jan. 19, among them six sisters," Latin American bishops said in a letter signed by Archbishop Jaime Spengler of Porto Alegre, Brazil, CELAM's president, as well as the organization's secretary-general, Auxiliary Bishop Lizardo Estrada Herrera of Cuzco, Peru.

"We wish to express our closeness to them, particularly to their families and communities, reminding them that they are not alone in this request for liberation as well as in the daily struggles for the liberation of the Haitian people," the bishops said.

In 2023, armed groups were accused of killing 4,000 Haitians and of carrying out at least 3,000 kidnappings. That's an increase of 80% over the previous year. The country is in chaos, marked also by sometimes violent protests demanding the removal from office of Prime Minister Ariel Henry. The price of basic goods has jumped by 23%, reported the U.N.'s World Food Program. Since December, the price of vegetable oil has risen 66%.

"Priests and religious are risking their lives in serving the poorest and most vulnerable people in Haiti," said Edward Clancy, director of outreach of ACN USA, based in Brooklyn, New York. "Their courage is an expression of Christian charity. It is an abomination that gangs target them for kidnapping."