Catholic clergy kidnapped in Haiti are released: Church group

·3-min read
A pilgrim prays during Easter Holy Week in Haiti, which was roiled by the kidnapping of several members of the Catholic clergy

The remaining Catholic clergy who were kidnapped in Haiti earlier in April have been released, including a French priest and nun, a missionary group said Friday.

Their abduction caused outrage to boil over in Haiti, which is battling a spike in kidnappings for ransom and a political crisis.

The release of the clergy was announced by the Society of Priests of Saint Jacques, which said the victims were unharmed but provided no information on whether a ransom had been paid to secure their freedom.

In its note, the religious society thanked the ambassadors of France and the United States "for their discreet and effective diplomatic contribution."

A total of 10 people were abducted in Croix-des-Bouquets, a town northeast of the capital Port-au-Prince, on April 11, including the seven clergy -- three of whom had already been released.

The clergy members were a group of four priests and a nun from Haiti, as well as one priest and one nun from France. The three non-clergy were members of the family of a Haitian priest, who was not among those kidnapped.

"Our hearts are filled with joy because we have found our colleagues, the sisters and the family members of Father Jean Anel Joseph in good health," the missionary society said in a statement.

In Paris, the foreign ministry welcomed the news. "We thank all the actors who contributed to this happy outcome, in particular the Haitian Catholic church for its mobilization," a ministry spokesman said during a press briefing.

- 'When we live without kidnappings' -

Majority-Catholic Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, is plagued by insecurity and natural disasters.

Kidnappings for ransom have surged in recent months in Port-au-Prince and other provinces, reflecting the growing influence of armed gangs in the Caribbean nation.

Following the clergy kidnappings, the Catholic Church openly criticized government "inaction," making clear it plans to take a more direct role in addressing the daunting challenges facing the island.

It was the final straw for many increasingly exasperated Haitians, forcing Jovenel Moise, the country's widely criticized president, to announce a reshuffling of the government.

Moise has been ruling by decree after legislative elections due in 2018 were delayed and following disputes on when his own term ends.

The United States renewed its support on Thursday for Haiti holding the overdue elections but said it did not back a constitutional referendum after US lawmakers warned that voting this year would only bring more turmoil.

Amid the competing crises, the archbishop of Port-au-Prince welcomed the release of the clergy, but noted the nation faces mounting problems.

"Our contentment will be greater when we see that we live in a country where kidnappings do not exist. Our contentment will be greater when we live in a country where everyone can move where they want, when they want," said Max Leroy Mesidor.

The Church has intervened before in Haitian affairs: in 2014, Cardinal Chibly Langlois took part in talks between the executive branch and political parties during a tense period in the country's politics.

And earlier this month the archdiocese of Port-au-Prince issued a statement deploring "the descent into hell of Haitian society" and denouncing as unprecedented the "violence of armed gangs."

amb-dax/jh/bgs