Published on Sunday, May 31, 2009 by CommonDreams.org
Revolutionary Haitian Priest, Gerard Jean-Juste, Presente!
by Bill Quigley
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
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!
By Bill Quigley. Bill represented Pere Jean-Juste many times in Haiti along
with the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux in Port au Prince and the Institute
for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. Bill is on leave from Loyola University
College of Law in New Orleans serving as Legal Director of the Center for
Constitutional Rights. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org