[News] Haiti's Revolutionary Priest Gerard Jean-Juste: Presente!

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Jun 1 12:48:42 EDT 2009


June 1, 2009

An Uncompromising Voice for Justice

Haiti's Revolutionary Priest Gerard Jean-Juste: Presente!


Though Haitian priest Father Gerard Jean-Juste 
died May 27, 2009, at age 62, in Miami from a 
stroke and breathing problems, he remains present 
to millions.  Justice-loving people world-wide 
mourn his death and celebrate his life.  Pere 
Jean-Juste worked uncompromisingly for justice 
for Haitians and the poor, both in Haiti and in the U.S.

Pere Jean-Juste was a Jesus-like 
revolutionary.  In jail and out, he preached 
liberation of the poor, release of prisoners, 
human rights for all, and a fair distribution of 
wealth.  A big muscular man with a booming voice 
and a frequent deep laugh, he wore a brightly 
colored plastic rosary around his neck and 
carried another in his pocket.  Jailed for nearly 
a year in Haiti by the U.S. supported coup 
government which was trying to silence him, 
Amnesty International called him a Prisoner of Conscience.

Jean-Juste was a scourge to the unelected coup 
governments of Haiti, who served at the pleasure, 
and usually the direction, of the U.S. 
government.   He constantly challenged both the 
powers of Haiti and the U.S. to stop killing and 
starving and imprisoning the poor.  In the U.S. 
he fought against government actions which 
deported black Haitians while welcoming Cubans 
and Nicaraguans and others.  In Haiti he called 
for democracy and respect and human rights for the poor.

Pere Jean-Juste was sometimes called the most 
dangerous man in Haiti.  That was because he was 
not afraid to die.  His computer screen saver was 
a big blue picture of Mary, the mother of 
Jesus.  “Every day I am ready to meet her.”  He 
once told me, when death threats came again.  “I 
will not stop working for justice because of 
their threats.  I am looking forward to heaven.”

Jean-Juste was a literally a holy terror to the 
unelected powers of Haiti and the elected but 
unaccountable powers of the U.S.  Every single 
day, in jail or out, he said Mass, read the 
psalms and jubilantly prayed the rosary. In Port 
au Prince he slept on the floor of his church, 
St. Claire, which provided meals to thousands of 
starving children and adults every week. In 
prison, he organized local nuns to bring him 
hundreds of plastic rosaries which he gave to 
fellow prisoners and then lead them in daily prayer.

When Pere Jean-Juste began to speak, to preach 
really, about justice for the poor and the 
wrongfully imprisoned, restless crowds drew 
silent.  Listening to him preach was like feeling 
the air change before a thunderstorm sweeps 
in.  He slowly raised his arms.  He spread his 
powerful hands to punctuate his intensifying 
words.  Minutes passed as the Bible and the 
Declaration of Human Rights and today’s news were 
interspersed.  Justice for the poor.  Freedom for 
those in prison.  Comfort for those who 
mourn.  The thunder was rolling now.  Crowds were 
cheering now.  Human rights for 
everyone.  Justice for Haiti.  Justice for Haiti.  Justice for Haiti.

To the rich, Jean-Juste preached that the man 
with two coats should give one to the woman with 
none.  But, unlike most preachers, he did not 
stop there.  Because there were many people with 
no coats, Pere Jean-Juste said, no one could 
justly claim ownership of a second coat.  In 
fact, those who held onto second coats were 
actually thieves who stole from those who had no 
coats.  In Haiti and the U.S., where there is 
such a huge gap between the haves and the 
have-nots, there was much stealing by the rich 
from the poor.  This was revolutionary preaching.

During the day, people streamed to his church to 
ask for help.  Mothers walked miles from Cite de 
Soleil to his parish to beg him to help them bury 
their children.  Widows sought help.  Families 
with sons in prison asked for a private 
word.  Small packets of money and food were 
quietly given away.  Visitors from rural Haiti, 
people seeking jobs, many looking for food, 
police officers who warned of new threats, 
political organizers with ideas how to challenge 
the unelected government, reporters and people 
seeking special prayers – all came all the time.

Every single night when he was home at his church 
in Port au Prince Pere Jean-Juste led a half hour 
public rosary for anyone who showed up.  Most of 
the crowd was children and older women who came 
in part because the church was the only place in 
the neighborhood which had electricity.  He 
walked the length of the church booming out the 
first part of the Hail Mary while children held 
his hand or trailed him calling out their part of 
the rosary.  The children and the women came 
night after night to pray in Kreyol with Mon Pere.

Pere Jean-Juste lived the preferential option for 
the poor of liberation theology.  Because he was 
always in trouble with the management of the 
church, who he also freely criticized, he was 
usually not allowed regular church parish 
work.  In Florida, he lay down in his clerical 
blacks on the road in front of busses stopping 
them from taking Haitians to be deported from the 
U.S.  For years he lived on the run in Haiti, 
moving from house to house.  When he was arrested 
on trumped up charges, he refused to allow people 
with money to bribe his way out of jail, he would 
stay with the poor and share their treatment.

He dedicated his entire adult life to the 
revolutionary proposition that every single 
person is entitled to a life of human 
dignity.  No matter the color of skin.  No matter 
what country they were from.  No matter how poor 
or rich.  No matter woman or man.

His last time in court in Haiti, when the judge 
questioned him about a bogus weapons charge 
against him, Pere Jean-Juste dug into his pocket, 
pulled out his plastic prayer beads, thrust them 
high in the air and bellowed, to the delight of 
the hundreds in attendance, “My rosary is my only 
weapon!”  The crowd roared and all charges were dropped.

Gerard Jean-Juste lived with and fought for and 
with widows and orphans and those in jail and 
those being deported and the hungry and the 
mourning and the sick and the persecuted.  Our 
world is better for his time among us.

Mon Pere, our brother, your spirit, like those of 
all who struggle for justice for others, lives on.  Presente!

Bill Quigley is a law professor and human rights 
lawyer at Loyola University New Orleans.  Bill 
has visited Haiti many times as a volunteer 
advocate with the Institute for Justice and Peace 
Haiti.  <http://www.ijdh.org>www.ijdh.org  Bill 
can be reached at <mailto:quigley77 at yahoo.com>quigley77 at yahoo.com.

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