Priest, 6 religious brothers, lay teacher kidnapped in Haiti in another wave of violence

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (OSV News) -- As the wave of violence torments gang-decimated Haiti, six male religious, a lay teacher and a priest were kidnapped in two separate incidents Feb. 23 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital.

The six members of the Congregation of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart were abducted on their way to the John XXIII School, which is run by the order. A teacher who was with them was also taken, the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need confirmed.

"In view of this painful event, the John XXIII institution is closing its doors until further notice. The other institutions of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart throughout the country will continue the work of raising awareness among the new generation of the values of living together in harmony, with a view to the emergence of a new society that is more humane, more caring, and more united," said the congregation in a statement sent to ACN.

Only a few hours later, a priest also was kidnapped in Port-au-Prince. He was taken from his parish church, alongside some of the faithful, soon after celebrating morning Mass.

Security in Haiti is very poor, as its society deals with the total breakdown of the state and regular institutions. Despite the tireless work of the church, clergy and religious have not been spared the violence of armed gangs.

The latest kidnappings took place five weeks after a group of six religious sisters were abducted, only to be released the following week.

Bishop Pierre-André Dumas of Anse-à-Veau and Miragoâne was badly injured in a Feb. 18 explosion while visiting Port-au-Prince. It is not yet clear if the explosion was caused by criminal activity or a gas leak. The bishop is in stable condition and recovering well in a hospital in the United States.The bishop suffered burns to his face, arms and legs in a blast.

Archbishop Max Leroys Mesidor of Port-au-Prince, president of the Haitian bishops' conference, told ACN that Bishop Dumas had undergone an operation because of his injuries.Referring to the latest kidnapping, the Congregation of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart said they "firmly believe that our compassionate God will change the hearts of stone that sow desolation into hearts of flesh for a revolution of love in Haiti.”

According to some reports, 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. But The Associated Press reported the number may be as high as 8,400 -- of people reported killed, injured or kidnapped overall last 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%.

In addition, more than 310,000 people have been left homeless as gangs estimated to control up to 80% of Port-au-Prince keep warring over territory, AP said.

"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."

"For several years now, absurd, and unjustified violence has plagued the peaceful Haitian people, and not even those who dedicate their lives to the vulnerable are spared. May the civilized world unite with the Haitian people, who suffer, believe, pray, and hope for the rebirth of solidarity on our planet!" said the Congregation of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart.

On Feb. 26 the U.S. government reiterated its support to help restore peace and calm to Haiti, saying it will provide money, equipment and logistical support to a multinational force whose deployment remains uncertain, AP reported.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who is in Guyana for a Caribbean summit Feb. 25-28, said the U.S. is playing its part in rallying global support for a U.N.-backed Kenyan police force to be sent to Haiti.

She noted the U.S. government already has pledged $200 million and will work with stakeholders on restoring peace ahead of general elections that have yet to be held, according to AP.