Jesuits offer Trudeau their Haiti expertise

Canada to lead Core Group in troubled Caribbean nation

By Michael Swan, The Catholic Register

[Toronto – Canadian Catholic News] – As Canada prepares to take the lead among the Core Group trying to solve Haiti’s anarchic and violent crisis, Canada’s top Jesuit is offering Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a precious resource — 55 Haitian Jesuits, including 35 currently in the troubled Caribbean nation.

“We could bring some of the Haitian Jesuit leadership into the conversation,” Jesuit provincial superior Fr. Erik Oland told The Catholic Register. “These are very smart, highly educated men who have pastoral skills. Give them a voice. Let’s have a conversation.”

In a Nov. 22, 2022 letter to Prime Minister Trudeau — also sent to Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly and International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan — Oland and Haitian Jesuit superior Fr. Jean-Denis Saint-Felix tell Trudeau the Canadian Jesuits are “deeply troubled” by a Haitian crisis of “unprecedented dimensions.”

Owing to a history of missionary work by Quebecois Jesuits in the 20th century, Haiti’s Jesuits are part of the Canadian province of the world’s largest Catholic order of priests.

Since the assassination of Haiti’s then-president Jovenel Moïse in July 2021, and the IMF-directed cuts to fuel subsidies in September of this year, Haiti has suffered constant protests, often devolving into riots, a blockade of the country’s largest fuel depot by about a dozen street gangs who call themselves the G9 Family and Allies, gangs in control of roads demanding payment for passage, broad daylight kidnappings, a cholera outbreak and a declaration from the World Food Program that nearly half the country (4.7 million people) are facing acute hunger. On top of these woes, there is almost complete lawlessness and an uncountable death toll from gang violence.

“Our brother Jesuits report connections between the gangs, the government and the business elites, with gang violence being wielded in service of the ruling powers with impunity,” reads the letter to the prime minister.

Most of all the Jesuits are asking Canada not to lead the Core Group (Canada, the United States, France, Brazil, Spain, Germany, the European Union, United Nations and Organization of American States representatives) down the path of military intervention and occupation.

“The Jesuits oppose military intervention but stand ready to assist legitimate reform efforts that can build lasting peace in Haiti,” said the letter to Trudeau.

The Canadian government needs to find new Haitian voices to engage with, said Oland. Dealing with the same political and business elites will only produce the same results, he said.

“This is a crisis. Something needs to be done, but a quick fix is not the way,” he said.

The Jesuits in Haiti run 17 Fe y Alegría schools; the rector of the national Catholic University is a Jesuit; the Jesuit Refugee Service assists migrants at three locations along the border with the Dominican Republic; Jesuits pastor two parishes; and the Jesuit spirituality centre is a hub for conversations and reflection on many issues.

“Right across the board in doing what Jesuits do, we are engaged at significant levels in the culture,” said Oland.

A similar letter to U.S. President Joe Biden, Senate and Congressional leaders has gone out from the Jesuit Conference headquartered in Washington.