Growth of evangelicals, Protestants could have deep political influence on a rebuilding nation.
By Kenneth Kidd
PETIONVILLE, HAITI–The iron gates that lead from the small chapel to the main church have been chained shut.
Paper signs in Creole and French plead for help with rebuilding.
The main part of St. Pierre Catholic Church is still standing, unlike some other places of worship. Both the Anglican and Catholic cathedrals in Port-au-Prince now lie in ruins.
But St. Pierre was damaged enough by the earthquake that services are now conducted in the adjacent chapel, leaving congregants to spill out into two courtyards to sing the traditional Peuple d’Haïti, ton Dieu te fait signe.
Haiti was already a deeply religious and spiritual country.
It’s a place where, at 5 a.m. on a Sunday, the massed roosters of Petionville vie with evangelical preachers on loudspeakers, a predawn duet of murder and salvation.
But one long-time congregant at St. Pierre, a civil servant, says attendance here is now often three times what it was before the earthquake, and there will be four such Sunday services before lunch.
He thinks there’s a religious revival underway. “More than a lot,” he says.
If Haiti’s past is any indication, this could have profound political implications as the country goes about rebuilding itself and its institutions.
It was, after all, a young Catholic priest named Jean-Bertrand Aristide whose left-leaning Little Church movement ultimately took him to the presidency in a landslide victory in 1990.
Any future influence of religion on public life could prove more complicated, if only for the growing presence of another player.
Protestantism is a fairly recent import to Haiti. It didn’t arrive here in any substantial way until the 1970s, courtesy of the American churches that poured both missionaries and money into the country.
Yet it quickly gained a foothold, giving rise to the axiom that Haiti had become 80 per cent Catholic, 20 per cent Protestant and 100 per cent Voodoo, formally the national religion.
How true that equation still holds is uncertain, but there are signs it may be shifting.
There are now several evangelical Christian radio and, post-earthquake, American evangelicals have been arriving en masse, T-shirted armies come to help with the relief effort.
If the full houses at the Assembly of God and other evangelical churches nearby are any indication, their congregations are now at least as burgeoning as St. Pierre’s.