Haitian violence is answered with prayer U.S. INTERVENTION IN HAITI

September 26, 1994|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Writer

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- These are two churches, bound in violence, covered in tears.

There are weeds and trees growing where the altar once stood at the church of Saint-Jean Bosco, firebombed six years ago as the Rev. Jean-Bertrand Aristide preached from the pulpit. The roof is gone. The windows are boarded up. The front gates stand locked and charred.

On a concrete block that covers a doorway, someone has memorialized the day in 1988 when 12 people died by scrawling in Creole: "There will never be another Sept. 11 again."

Across town, worshipers follow the beat of a drum, their voices rising and echoing in the tiny Chapelle Marie Reine des Coeurs. But there is sadness here, too, marked in stone at the front gate where on Aug. 28 the Rev. Jean-Marie Vincent was murdered.

In Haiti, churches can become scenes not just of peace but of brutality.

"Things cannot be worse," said the Rev. Laurence Bohnen, as he looked at the burned-out church of Saint-Jean Bosco.

"Things cannot exist like this all the time," said the Rev. Quesnel Alphonse, standing in front of the grave of his predecessor at Chapelle Marie.

The two men have experienced their share of grief in the volatile mix that is Haiti, a place where peace and violence are divided by a threadbare barrier that is often breached.

The contrast was on display in Port-au-Prince yesterday morning, the streets filled with worshipers flocking to churches on this first weekend after the U.S. military landing. On those same streets stood Haitian government "attaches" -- menacing enforcers who control the population through fear and violence.

"Do you like history?" Father Bohnen asked, trying to explain Haiti's plight. "In the history of Europe, you had big, big revolutions, but sometimes it took centuries for these revolutions to occur," he said. "Right now, Haiti is like Europe was in the Middle Ages. We are a feudal society. We should not be amazed there is trouble here in Haiti."

At 80, Father Bohnen's hands shake and his voice rasps. Yet his blue eyes shine when he talks of the children he has educated and the Salesian order he has helped build at Saint-Jean Bosco.

While U.S. Army helicopters soared overhead, he prepared for another term as overseer of a school system in the slums that teaches 25,000 students in 175 schools.

"We can learn a lot from these children," he said. "There are thousands of good reasons to be depressed. But the children are not. If only we could be as joyful as them."

One of Father Bohnen's students was the young Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Father Bohnen remembers the future president, and future exile, as a bright young pupil, an altar boy and, finally, as a fellow priest. It was only after Father Aristide continued his political activities that he was forced to leave the Salesian order.

Some U.S. politicians and intelligence experts have labeled Father Aristide as unstable. But Father Bohnen shakes his head in disagreement.

"If one had been showed to be stable, it is Aristide," he said. "He is still there. He is still the defender of the poor. He is the one who is stable. The military mafia that is in charge has proven they are incapable to run the country. You see it. You see how things are."

The worshipers at Chapelle Marie know all about that, now -- how things are in a country ruled by a powerful elite. For years, the nTC Father Vincent had been an outspoken opponent of the military junta. He worked in the poorer communities in the capital. But his voice was silenced when he was gunned down at the church gates as he returned home from a birthday party for his sister.

"You cannot say why he died," said Father Alphonse. "All you can say is that this was his engagement."

For weeks after the attack, Father Alphonse remained in hiding. It was only after U.S. troops began their occupation that he felt it safe enough to venture beyond the church gates.

While Father Alphonse preaches reconciliation, the parishioners remain angry over the murder.

"As revenge, we started to pray," said Cassie Georges. "We know we are under the protection of God only. How can we get protection from human beings?"

For now, their protectors are U.S. soldiers. But they continue to pray for peace. As a drizzly dawn broke yesterday morning, the congregation sang "Lord, I Believe." At the end of the service Father Alphonse said that since there are now so many Americans in the capital, "maybe it is time we all learn English."

The congregation laughed. But when the service ended, so did the joy. A visitor told the worshipers that the Marines had killed Haitian police in Cap-Haitien. The worshipers grew excited.

Mrs. Georges, a silver cross dangling from her neck, shouted: "They deserved it."

Nobody disagreed.

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