Haitian National Police patrol outside the College Marie-Anne in Port-au-Prince Jan. 22, 2024, days after six nuns were kidnapped by armed men while sisters were traveling on a bus. The nuns who were abducted, along with other passengers are members of the Sisters of St. Anne, the congregation that runs the College Marie-Anne. OSV News photo/Ralph Tedy Erol, Reuters

Haiti bishops appeal for release of religious sisters kidnapped by suspected gang members

  • January 24, 2024

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- The bishops of Haiti appealed for the release of six women religious who were kidnapped Jan. 19 in a country mired in crisis because of gang violence.

The Haitian bishops' conference and the Archdiocese of Port-au-Prince said that Haitians are weary of what they call "this reign of terror inflicted by the gangs," Vatican News reported.
The country's bishops urged the government to protect its citizens.

The situation in the country has "plunged Haiti into an increasingly chaotic crisis," they said and demanded the safe release of the six women religious.

The women are members of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Anne and were abducted by armed men Jan. 19 while traveling on a bus in the country's capital, Port-au-Prince, according to the Haitian Conference of Religious. It is not clear who is responsible for the kidnapping, but it is suspected that it is the work of a gang

Other passengers on the bus also were abducted, the conference said in a statement.

"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.

Just before Christmas, Archbishop Max Leroys Mesidor of Port-au-Prince expressed his hope that the new year would see improvement in the country’s situation. "In Haiti we will be celebrating Christmas in a context of great suffering, caused especially by the infernal domination of armed groups and the indifference of political actors,” he said. “But our hope is strong. Let us pray that the feast of Emmanuel should be an opportunity to increase fraternal unity and to find release from our long nights of fear, distrust, and violence. We hope to see the support of the international community for disarmament and the recovery of our country."

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 Aid to the Church in Need USA, based in Brooklyn, New York. "Their courage is an expression of Christian charity. It is an abomination that gangs target them for kidnapping."

Founded in 1947 as a Catholic aid organization for war refugees and recognized as a pontifical foundation since 2011, ACN is dedicated to the service of Christians all over the globe, wherever they are persecuted or oppressed or suffering material need.

ACN, with 23 offices around the world, provides pastoral and humanitarian assistance to the persecuted church in more than 145 countries, working under the guidance of the pope.

In Haiti, Auxiliary Bishop Pierre-André Dumas of Port-au-Prince, has denounced the kidnappings and called for an end to "this deplorable criminality."

"This odious and barbaric act shows no respect for the dignity of consecrated women who give themselves wholeheartedly and completely to educate and form the young, the poorest, and the most vulnerable members of our society," he said, as reported by Vatican News.

Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.

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