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Deadly contrast divides Haitian Catholics.

"Do you know a country where they pull people out of church and kill them, and no bishop speaks out?"

The courageous editor of Libete, a Creole-language newspaper that speaks the truth about Haiti, asked the question, but he was not speaking for himself alone. Most Haitians feel the same lack of connection with the "official church."

Anyone familiar with Haiti is not surprised. The Catholic church is really two churches: the church of the elite and - the vast majority of the people - the church of the poor. And the bishops are almost without exception tied to the church of the rich.

That happens so frequently in so many parts of the world that most of the time I am not too bothered by it. But in Haiti a couple of weeks ago I felt strongly the contradiction between our words as a church and our actions.

I had seen the poverty and affliction in Hati before. It is overwhelming. What made this trip different was the constant overlay of tension. People are living in fear. Unarmed and poor, they are defenseless in the face of the violence from the military and the police (who are in fact part of the military).

On Sept. 11, one of the most blatant acts of violent repression happened in Sacred Heart Church in Port-au-prince. Antoine Izrmery, a businessman and supporter of exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was dragged out of the pew where he was attending Mass with his family, forced into the sanctuary and surrounded by armed soldiers in civilian clothing.

As he stood in silence with his arms extended, they shouted accusations at him and struck him, then pushed him toward the door. He was knocked down twice and then pushed into the street, where he was knocked down again. As he lay on the street, a soldier pressed a gun against his head and fired it Izmery died within minutes. It all happened in the presence of U.N. observers, his family and friends and people in the church and out on the street. Those who were there are still traumatized by its blatancy and extreme cruelty.

On a recent Thursday, on the anniversary of the coup, a group of North Americans gathered in the same church with a small number of very brave Haitian priests and Izmery's wife and daughter to celebrate a memorial Mass for him and to bless and consecrate the spot on the street where he died. The whole event was unbelievably moving.

It was a small effort to bring consolation to his family and to give voice to the Haitian people who are forced into silence by the terrorism of the military and police.

There is an amazing way in which word of this action gets known by the people. Their gratitude makes us realize how important it is to make even a minor show of support such as ours. Various meetings and conversations with priests and others whose lives are at risk at every moment deepened our awareness of the tragedy that is Haiti.

Maybe our efforts are a small way in which the church truly makes the sufferings of the poor and the oppressed its own. I hope so. Through the poor we can be redeemed and come to know new life.

Thomas Gumbleton is auxiliary bishop of Detroit.
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Title Annotation:assassination of Antoine Izmery
Author:Gumbleton, Thomas, Bishop
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Column
Date:Oct 29, 1993
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