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Nuns and Lay Companions Kidnapped in Haiti Have Been Released Unharmed

People fleeing gang violence take shelter at a sports arena in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Sept. 1, 2023. On Oct. 2, the U.N. Security Council authorized the deployment of an international security mission to aid Haiti’s own police force in countering gang violence, which has spiraled out of control in recent months. Haiti has reported more than 3,000 homicides in 2023, and over 1,500 incidents of kidnapping for ransom. (Photo: OSV News/Ralph Tedy Erol, Reuters)

WASHINGTON — The six women religious kidnapped in Haiti, along with two laypeople traveling with them, were released in good condition Jan. 24 after five days of captivity, according to the archbishop of Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

“We give thanks to God! Thank you for your support,” Archbishop Max Leroy Mésidor, president of Haiti’s bishops’ conference, said in a statement to Vatican Media.

The archbishop did not tell reporters if a ransom was paid or provide other details, including who was responsible. 

Bishop Pierre-André Dumas of Anse-à-Veau-Miragoâne, vice president of the bishops’ conference, similarly gave thanks for the release of the sisters and the two people with them.

“This traumatic event has once again put our faith to the test, but it remains unshakable,” he said in a statement, adding that God “brought our captives back to freedom.”

In a recent interview with Vatican Radio, the bishop said he wished to offer himself as a hostage in exchange for the nuns.

“Kidnapping women who dedicate their lives to saving the poor and the young is a gesture that will see God’s judgment,” he said.

Unidentified armed men Jan. 19 had stopped the bus that the sisters, members of the Congregation of St. Anne, were on, demanding a $3.5 million ransom, according to local media reports.

On Jan. 25, the Catholic Church leaders in Haiti organized a day of prayer, meditation, and Eucharistic adoration for the religious sisters and others kidnapped.

Church leaders around the world had been pleading for the release of the six women religious and urged the country’s government to crack down on gang violence. 

A letter released Jan. 21 by the Archdiocese of Port-au-Prince and the Haitian Conference of Religious called for the safe release of the kidnapped sisters without conditions.

It said Haitians are tired of the “reign of terror” they have experienced and called on government officials to protect the Haitian people and their property.

The Church leaders also said they were distressed that there hasn’t been a serious response to kidnappings taking place in the country for more than two years and said the ongoing violence has “plunged the country into an increasingly confusing and chaotic situation.”

The women’s order, founded in the Canadian province of Quebec in the 1850s, started its ministry in Haiti in 1944 and currently has 40 sisters there working on educational projects.

No one had publicly claimed responsibility for the abduction but many suspect it is the work of gangs that are active in Port-au-Prince. The location where the kidnapping took place is controlled by the Grand Ravine and Village de Dieu gangs.

Pope Francis appealed for the sisters’ release after praying the Angelus at St. Peter’s Square Jan. 21. He said he learned of their kidnapping with sorrow. He prayed “for social harmony in the country” and for a “stop to the violence, which causes so much suffering to that dear population.”

A statement by the group Aid to the Church in Need USA, headquartered in Brooklyn, pointed out that in 2023, armed groups were accused of killing 4,000 Haitians and at least 3,000 kidnappings. The country is in chaos, it said, marked by violent protests demanding that Prime Minister Ariel Henry be removed from office.

Father Morachel Bonhomme, president of the Haitian Conference of Religious, has asked people to pray for the sisters to find a way out of their situation. “These too many kidnappings fill the consecrated people of Haiti with sadness and fear,” he said in a statement.

The priest prayed that “the spirit of strength be given” to the sisters and that the solidarity of the people of Haiti and the world would help them “overcome this difficult ordeal.”

Edward Clancy, director of outreach of Aid to the Church in Need, USA, said that priests and religious are risking their lives in serving the poorest and most vulnerable people in Haiti. “Their courage is an expression of Christian charity. It is an abomination that gangs target them for kidnapping,” he said.

Aid to the Church in Need is supporting dozens of projects in Haiti and has been active in the country for many years, stepping up its efforts after the earthquakes of 2010 and 2021. The group helped restore and rebuild damaged churches and church buildings and provide ongoing support for women religious and seminarians.

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