Six church workers and a priest held captive by gangs in Haiti

Six church workers and a priest held captive by gangs in Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE — Amid ever-increasing gang violence in Haiti, six church workers and a priest were kidnapped on February 23,  in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, local Catholic sources said.

Religious appeal for the immediate release of the hostages

The six religious belonging to the Congregation of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart were abducted on Friday morning by an armed group as they travelled to the École Jean XXIII, in downtown Port-au-Prince.

The school is the only one still operating in the high-risk area.  On the same day a priest who had just celebrated Mass in the Chapel of Our Lady of Fatima, in the city’s Bicentenaire District, was also kidnapped.

The kidnappings come just a month after the release of six nuns from the Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Anne who had been abducted by gunmen on a bus on January 19 along with other two people.  

They are the latest in a long string of kidnappings in Haiti which has long been in the grip of violence by various criminal gangs vying for control of the territory.

Injured Bishop Pierre-André Dumas’ heath conditions improving 

Gang feuds don’t spare even Church personnel, as confirmed by the explosion that on January 28 injured Bishop Pierre-André Dumas of Anse-à-Veau-Miragoâne who serves as vice-president of the Haitian Bishops Conference in a house where he was staying during a visit to Port-au-Prince.

The prelate has undergone surgery and his health conditions are now improving, local Church sources reported, adding that he is now expected to be transferred to a hospital in Miami, Florida.

Gang warfare has dramatically increased in Haiti since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse by a group of Colombian mercenaries in July 2021.  The killing worsened criminal control in the country and today innocent citizens are regularly killed, raped and held for ransom.

Over 1,000 people killed, injured, or kidnapped in January

The UN reported that January 2024 was the bloodiest month in over two years, with at least 1,108 people killed, injured, or kidnapped. 

Early February  major Haitian cities experienced further unrest during opposition-led protests demanding the resignation of interim Prime Minister Ariel Henry. According to a political agreement concluded in December 2022  Ariel  was supposed to hold elections on February 7, 2024, but has remained in power to form a government of national unity.

Elections have taken place since 2016 with the presidency still remaining vacant and since Moise’s assassination the country of plunged further into chaos with gangs controlling vast parts of its territory.

Bishops’ calls for security

The Haitian bishops have repeatedly pleaded for the restoration of security in Haiti   and  in a recent statement joined in calling for PM Ariel to step aside “for the good of the Nation,” while urging Haitians not to yield to violence.

In a statement religious men and women in Haiti urged for their immediate release and an end to the scourge of gang violence and insecurity in the country.