Apparently, one of the jokes doing the rounds at Haiti’s national carnival up in Cap Haitien in the north, is that the Pope would have been better advised to resign after the grand pre-Lenten ceremony of feasting. Not sure quite what the logic of that is but Benedict XVI’s surprise announcement early on Monday may, as the wag put it, have set a really high bar for giving something up for Lent!
Jokes apart, change in the Vatican obviously affects a mainly Catholic country like Haiti. An estimated 80% of the Haitian population is Catholic. That’s if you accept drum music, kreyol and folk elements in ‘Catholic’ services. In the 1970s and 80s, the Catholic church outwardly reconciled itself to sharing spiritual space with voudou (as it is spelt in kreyol). It was a canny decision because it allowed Haitians to claim they were Catholic even as they employed voudou practices .
As has often been observed, Pope John Paul II was always going to be a hard act to follow – for anyone. Particularly in Haiti, which he visited in 1983, winning hearts and minds by his manifest concern for human rights. John Paul II famously stood on Haitian soil and declared “things must change here,” triggering a chain of events that contributed to changing Haiti’s destiny.
The Pope’s words are thought to have led Haiti’s Catholic clergy to help develop a focused peasant-community movement, Radio Soleil, a Catholic station, did its bit to encourage the anti-Duvalier strand of opinion and the bishops courageously denounced the regime’s repression. And then in 1990, a Catholic priest, Jean Bertrand Aristide, was elected “people’s leader”, though he did not manage to be the change he wanted to see.
Clearly, the late Pope influenced much here and Benedict XVI not much at all.