of Conscience Returns - Beloved “Mon Pere” Jean-Juste Comes
Home, by Bill Quigley,
HLLN's News, Essays and Reflections,
August 23, 2007
Haitian Prisoner of Conscience Returns - Beloved “Mon
Comes Home By Bill Quigley. Bill is a human rights lawyer and
law professor at
Loyola University New Orleans. Bill assists Mario Joseph of the Bureau
des Avocats Internationaux in Port au Prince and Brian Concannon of
Institute of Justice and Democracy in Haiti in representation of Pere
Jean-Juste. He can be reached at Quigley@loyno.edu.
Those wishing to
contact Pere Jean-Juste directly should email him c/o firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pere Gerard Jean-Juste, an outspoken Haitian voice for human rights,
economic justice and democracy, returned to Haiti last weekend for the
first time since being hustled out of a prison cell by heavily armed
guards and put on a waiting plane to Miami in January of 2006. Pere
Jean-Juste, a Catholic priest, had spent nearly six months in a series
of Haitian prisons for refusing to stop his public criticisms of human
rights abuses by the coup government which overthrew elected President
Jean Bertrand Aristide. Once in Miami, Father Jean-Juste was immediately
hospitalized for treatment of leukemia by Dr. Paul Farmer, a long-time
friend, who had secretly performed a biopsy on Jean-Juste in his prison
Now, a year and a half later, Pere Jean-Juste was coming home, not knowing
how he would be received. As the plane landed in Port au Prince, Father
Jean-Juste quietly blessed himself as he saw his home parish, St. Claire,
from the window.
As he walked towards the entrance to the Toussaint L’Ouverture
airport, dozens of people waved and clapped from the balconies overlooking
the landing space. Inside, airport officials, police officers, media
and church members crushed in on him. Patting his back, shaking his
hands, giving him hugs, the crowds pressed in and called out “Mon
A new Haiti greeted him. The unelected coup government had finally left
the country. The people elected President Rene Preval. Democracy had
Inside, TV cameras, microphones, and tape recorders were thrust in his
face. Many wanted to know if he was going to be a candidate for Presidency
of Haiti in the next election. Father Jean-Juste laughed and said, “The
only election in the Catholic Church is for Pope – and since the
Pope is in good health, I do not see an election anytime soon.”
Father spoke of the disappearance of the human rights activist Lovinsky
Pierre-Antoine, called for the return of President Aristide, and urged
people interested in human rights in Haiti to keep the pressure on –
nonviolently. He was returning to Haiti on a pilgrimage. Was he afraid
of death he was asked? “I am a Christian,” he replied. “I
know where I am going. If I die, I know the struggle will continue.
The struggle must continue for human rights and democratic principles.”
As he tried to leave the airport, a mob of hundreds of celebrating people
surrounded him, cheering and chanting his name, trying to touch him.
Dozens of UN blue helmeted troops with plastic riot shields pushed the
huge crowds back to allow his car to exit as the crowd ran alongside.
A makeshift wooden platform was set up at a nearby park to allow Father
Jean-Juste to speak to the crowd which had grown to well over a thousand
people. On the front of the platform was a big handmade sign –
FIDEL KATOLIK YO DI’W BON RETOU PE JANJIS – celebrating
his return. The blazing mid-day sun did not stop the celebration. Ra-ra
bands made up of drums and horns of all types wandered through the crowd
as Father Jean-Juste spoke. When it was time to leave for his church,
the crowds surged in again and it took many helpers to clear a path
for his car to leave.
People of all ages lined the highway along the way to the church, waving
and cheering. Black and white photocopied pictures of Pere Jean-Juste
were plastered to cement walls next to full color pictures of the Haitian
For the first time in over two years, Pere Jean-Juste was going home
to St. Claire’s Church in Port au Prince.
The last time he was in his home church was July 21, 2005. That day
Fr. Jean-Juste went to the funeral of slain journalist Jacques Roche
at St. Pierre’s church. During the funeral services in the church,
Fr. Jean-Juste was attacked by a mob, chased through the church building,
spit on, beaten, and nearly killed.
The unelected Haitian authorities arrested Father Jean-Juste for the
second time in less than a year and kept him in a succession of prisons
in an attempt to silence him.
Amnesty International designated him a Prisoner of Conscience and a
world-wide campaign was launched to protect his life in prison and to
help win his release. When he was released for medical treatment in
Miami the authorities would not allow him to visit his church on the
Hundreds waited at the church for the return of their long-time pastor.
When he finally arrived, people sang and cheered. Soaking wet, Father
Jean-Juste tried to greet as many people as possible and thank them
for their support and good works while he was away. After greeting as
many as he could, he went up to his small room in the upper part of
the church. There, he fell to his knees and prayed silently for several
The celebratory mood was hushed by the arrival of several trucks of
armed police. Ten men in the uniform of the Haitian National Police
marched up the stairs to see Pere Jean-Juste. To the joy of all, each
of the police officers went up to Father, shook his hand, and promised
to protect him while in Haiti. A 2005 visit by police to the church
resulted in Father’s arrest and another six months in prison.
This was quite a change. Democracy worked a wonderful change in the
Human rights lawyer Mario Joseph told Father Jean-Juste that the prosecutors
had dropped all the bogus criminal charges levied against him to keep
him in jail and silent during the coup government. But some judges insisted
that he return to Haiti for a court hearing on November 5, 2007 to have
all the charges formally dropped.
All evening, people came to the upper room of the church to greet and
pray with Pere Jean-Juste. At one point nine women holding hands were
circling Father in prayer. Other times there were cameras and tape recorders.
Outside the church, women walked up the dusty paths with plastic buckets
of water on their heads. The air was smoky and darkness settled in quickly.
At 9:30, Father Jean-Juste unlocked the door to his bedroom. For the
first time in twenty-five months, he was home.
The next day started sunny and hot. There were reports that Hurricane
Dean was in the vicinity of Haiti but there was no evidence of it yet.
As Father Jean-Juste arrived at early morning mass, the gathered women
burst into song thanking God for his return. Another priest who is a
good friend said the Mass while Father Jean-Juste prayed along from
the choir seats. Invited to concelebrate the mass, Fr. Jean-Juste declined,
and the priest praised him for his dedication to the church and to the
people. At the priest’s invitation, Father Jean-Juste distributed
Around noon, Father arrived at the Aristide Foundation building to speak
to hundreds of hot but cheering supporters. The crowd was full of energy.
They passionately sang the Haitian national anthem, prayed and danced
and clapped to a series of songs, had a long moment of silence for the
thousands who lost their lives opposing the coup of 2004. One person
in the front row held up a double frame of pictures – one of former
President Aristide and another of Father Jean-Juste. Dozens wore red,
white and blue t-shirts saying “Welcome back Father Jean-Juste.”
Pere Jean-Juste, dressed all in black, spoke to the crowd for nearly
an hour. They cheered, laughed, fell somber and then became excited
as he told of his experiences and the challenges facing all in Haiti.
As he finished and left people surged in again.
Back at the church, group after group came to visit. Beautiful music
soared above the conversations as the choirs practiced in the church
below. People from Cite Soleil and other parts of Port au Prince and
Haiti came and asked Father Jean-Juste to come visit their neighbors.
TV crews, youth groups, church members, politicians, other priests,
and the members of the choir all came. As darkness fell, Father led
those still at the church in a spirited forty minute rosary.
During the night, the winds of Hurricane Dean arrived with force. Trees
were bobbing and weaving – rain was coming into the church rooms
Despite the high winds and rain, 6:00 am mass was a full house of people
cheering and signing in thanksgiving for Father’s return. After
mass, visiting resumed and the hurricane did not slow down the flow
of visitors either.
Pere Jean-Juste greeted every one, child or grandmother, politician
or journalist, with a smile. He was confident and comfortable. After
two six month jail terms and enduring over a year of cancer treatment,
he was clearly enjoying every second of his return and every person
he could meet.
As darkness fell on his last night in Haiti, Pere Jean-Juste attended
the closing celebration of the church’s summer camp. During the
year, hundreds of children are fed daily by the church members with
funding from the US-based What If Foundation. In the summer camp, the
number of children and meals swells to over a thousand a day. Fifty
community members serve as counselors and the children learn painting,
sewing, crocheting, and other arts and crafts.
Yellow paper streamers hung under the tin roof that sheltered the kids
and counselors and family from the rain during the end of the summer
camp celebration. Children cheered as “Mon Pere” arrived
and sang him spirited songs. The children performed skits and counselors,
by candlelight, showed Father their arts and craft creations. Particularly
gratifying was the installation, while Father was away, of several outdoor
toilets for the community including one with full underground plumbing.
Throughout his last night, people continuously knocked on the door of
the church to come and see him. A robust midnight rosary was sung by
the community. Father said he got three hours of sleep but that seemed
In the early morning, the first plane since Hurricane Dean’s winds
slowed down, arrived in Port au Prince. While waiting for the plane
and while on the plane, people continued to come up to Father to greet
him and touch him and welcome him. As the plane took off and his country
receded from view, Pere Jean-Juste closed his eyes and prayed for Haiti.
Prominent priest returns to Haiti, urges countrymen to unite
The Associated Press
Published: August 17, 2007
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti: A prominent Roman Catholic priest who was released
from prison to seek medical treatment in the United States returned
to Haiti on Friday and urged his countrymen to put aside differences
and work to uplift the impoverished country.
About 200 supporters gathered at Port-au-Prince' s airport to greet
the Rev. Gerard Jean-Juste, who made his first visit to Haiti since
leaving the country in January 2006 to seek treatment for leukemia.
"I just have to give all glory to God for allowing me to be alive
so I could come back to my country," a healthy looking Jean-Juste
told reporters after arriving from Miami.
The 61-year-old priest is an influential advocate for Haiti's poor and
a prominent supporter of ousted former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide,
who left the country in 2004 amid a rebellion.
In 2005, the U.S.-backed interim government jailed Jean-Juste on suspicion
of involvement in the killing of prominent Haitian journalist and poet
Jacques Roche. A judge cleared him of homicide but indicted him on weapons
possession and criminal conspiracy — charges that Jean-Juste denies
and that international human rights have alleged were politically motivated.
Jean-Juste did not address his imprisonment but called for several jailed
supporters to be freed and for Aristide to be allowed to return to Haiti,
steps he said were needed to heal the deeply divided country.
"I want to call for a change of heart and so we can find ways to
move forward together," Jean-Juste said after addressing supporters
at his St. Claire Church.
Jean-Juste has drawn comparisons to Aristide, himself a former priest,
for his impassioned sermons and advocacy for the poor. The priest's
supporters tried to register him as a presidential candidate for the
2006 elections, but authorities barred his candidacy because he was