The Mass was intended to draw attention to the country’s recent surge in violence.
A Catholic Mass in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince ended in violence on Friday when police fired teargas into the crowded church.
The Mass was led by bishops to draw attention to the surge in violence and kidnapping that have besieged the impoverished country. According to a United Nations report, there have been 234 reported kidnappings in 2020, compared to 78 the year before. Homicides also increased by 20% in that time.
“For some time, we have seen Haitian society descend into hell,” the office of the archbishop in Port-au-Prince said in an April 12 statement. “The violence of armed gangs has taken on unprecedented proportions.”
The noon “Mass for the freedom of Haiti” was led by 11 bishops, who processed into the church to the sound of church bells ringing across the the capital, reported the Miami Herald.
At the end of the Mass, as the bishops were exiting the church, police fired tear gas missiles into the crowd.
Moments before, the Mass had turned into a political protest. The Miami Herald reported:
Inside the church, a crowd of mostly young people welcomed the procession chanting as they ran up and down the aisles saying, “Nou Bouke. Nou Bouke” — “We are fed up. We are fed up,” — and “Aba Jovenel”— Down with Jovenel, referring to Haiti President Jovenel Moise.
“It was no longer a Mass, it was truly a spontaneous political demonstration against the power, against kidnapping,” Michel told The Miami Herald. “When the Mass ended, the police fired tear gas. I almost died from asphyxiation inside.”
Kidnappings in Haiti have become brazen and all too common, with police seemingly powerless to stop them.
On April 1, on Holy Thursday, armed men walked into a Port-au-Prince church during a live-streamed church service, and abducted the pastor and three parishioners, reported the Associated Press. After relatives collected a ransom, the victims were freed, but the perpetrators remain at large.