Sunday, May 31, 2009

Reflections on Father Joe Zelenka


I feel blessed to have known this gentle yet fearless Prophetic Giant. Pere Gerry was indeed a man who lived the Gospel of Non-Violence. He indeed was a man who cared for the poor He was beyond a doubt the most gentle and loving man that I have ever met.

Pere Jean-Juste was special. He loved life. He loved his God. He loved as Jesus did. He was not afraid to call an injustice an injustice. He was not afraid to face imprisonment. I remember well when he said he would rather spend the entire remainder of his life in a Haitian prison than be exiled from his beloved country.

I had the privilege to spend Pentecost Sunday in 2005 with Gerry at his parish of St. Claire. With me were Bill Quigley and Dr. John Carroll and his wife Maria. Never in my life had I ever felt the power of the Holy Spirit like I did with Gerry and his parishioners. It was prayerful, joyful and very emotional. I felt the hand of God touch me. The reading from Acts on this Pentecost Sunday said “…and suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind”. The Holy Spirit was truly present.

To be in the presence of Gerry is incredible. He is courageous, fearless, prayerful and prophetic. He always was calling for an end to violence. He challenged the coup government of Haiti as well as the U.S. government to end the oppression of the Haitian people and return the democratically elected Jean Bertrand Aristide. He was the voice for those who had no voice. It was because of his voice that he was arrested and imprisoned.

My most memorable memorty of Gerry is him standing in the courtyard of the complex at St. Claire wearing his ball cap with the words “Jesus is My Boss”. As hundreds of children waited in line anxiously to get a meal they spotted him and immediately became silent. Gerry then led them in a prayer. I stood there in amazement and with tears in my eyes I said to myself “This Is Eucharist.”.

Always upbeat despite the troubles he faced Gerry continued to be a source of strength to the poorest of God’s poor. His slogan was “Piti, Piti, na rive” “Little by little we will arrive”. I remember his telling me that he cannot separate his faith from politics. “Jesus was never silent about injustice and the oppression of the poor” he would tell me.

The last time I saw Gerry was last October when he came to Indianapolis and was the Keynote Speaker for the 30th Anniversary Celebration of the Parish Twinning Program. It was at this time that my wife Sharel and I were graced with his presence in our home overnight.

I know that he now is with the God who he loved very much. I weep not for Gerry but for me and a world that continues to oppress each other. I pray that one day we will see a world without hunger, without violence.

Rest in Peace my friend. May you now embrace the God that you knew was with you for 62 years.

(Photo Pere Jean-Juste by Joe Zelenka)

Father Gerard Jean-Juste by Bill Quigley

Great article.


Published on Sunday, May 31, 2009 by
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
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!

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

Friday, May 29, 2009

Bloggers Remember Father Gerry

See this post from Global Voices.

Father Jean-Juste's Letter from Prison to Bill Quigley, December 1, 2005

My wife and I had the opportunity to visit Father Gerry Jean-Juste twice when he was in prison in the Pacot section of Port-au-Prince in 2005. The second visit I was able to examine him and determined that he had serious health problems which needed further diagnosis and treatment. Father told us that he had been deemed healthy by Haitian officials.

At this visit on December 1, 2005, Father wanted to write a letter to his American attorney Bill Quigley. We gave him yellow legal paper and he wrote out a five page note. The actual letter is linked below.

As you will read, Father focused very little on his own health problems or unjust imprisonment. But his heart did ache for the people of Haiti and all the difficulties and injustices of their lives that he was even able to witness from his prison window. Father Gerry’s faith remained strong during all of his trials; and his faith and good humor were a source of strength for others.

May Father Gerard Jean-Juste rest in peace and may the perpetual light shine upon him.

Go to this site to see the letter written by Father Jean-Juste to his attorney Bill Quigley.

Tribute to Father Gerry by Maria King Carroll

Here is what I remember about Father Gerry Jean Juste:

Seeing him say Mass at his beloved St. Clare’s in Port-au-Prince. During his
homily he said, “The first community of Christians were not in need because
they shared. We don’t share. We say we are Christians, but we are
hypocrites. We are only 600 miles from the U.S. and we are so poor. We are
part of the Americas—a continent of Christians, but we don’t act like it.”

He brought a young girl up on the alter who had been severely burned when a
propane tank exploded. She was covered in silvadene cream, and Father
explained that her family had spent all their money on her medical care. He
asked the people of his parish for donations for her family and the people
gave. After Mass, Father, who was clearly exhausted, took the time to listen
to each person waiting for him with their problems and concerns. When we
remarked on his stamina he said, “As long as I have time to pray, and
especially to say Mass, I am fine.”

Seeing him in prison in 2005, where he spent months on trumped up charges,
designed to ensure that he was not free during Haiti’s presidential
elections. My husband John Carroll, a physician, examined him and realized
that Father’s swollen neck indicated that something was likely seriously
wrong. “We will call it my freedom neck,” Father joked as we planned with
others how to petition for his release to receive medical treatment. Despite
his unjust imprisonment and his poor health, Father Gerry was amazingly
cheerful for himself but very sad about what was going on in Haiti. “Peace
and development,” he said. “These are the two things Haiti needs.” At the
end of the visit we all held hands and he prayed for each one of us. As we
left, we asked Father if there was anything we could do for him. He had
heard earlier that we had been able to secure more medical care for the
little girl who was burned in the propane explosion. “You already have,” he

Sometime when you meet a great person, you can be a little disappointed.
Maybe they act pompously or even unkindly. Maybe they are too big to do
certain jobs. Maybe they don’t live like they talk. Father Gerry Jean-Juste
was the real deal. He spent his life living the Gospel and challenging
others to do so also and trying to help those who most needed it. This
extended to his preaching, his organizing, and the way he treated each
person. And in all his labors and hardships, he exuded joy.

Haiti needs good guys like Father Gerry Jean-Juste. This world needs
them. It’a huge loss that he is no longer with us. As my husband said, “He’s the guy
who would do the most for Haiti, and he’s the one who was exiled for 18
years, he’s the one who was in and out of jail, he’s the one who was
prohibited from saying Mass by the Church, he’s the one who gets cancer, and
he’s the one who dies at age 62.”

Sometimes it can seem like goodness is snake bit. But I feel confident that
isn’t the lesson that Father Gerry Jean-Juste would want us to draw from his
life. No, the lesson that he would want us to learn is that love can win on
this earth. We just need to follow his example.

NYT's Obituary Fr. Gerry Jean-Juste

May 29, 2009
The Rev. Gérard Jean-Juste, Champion of Haitian Rights in U.S., Dies at 62

The Rev. Gérard Jean-Juste, a Roman Catholic priest who championed the rights of Haitians in the United States and was twice imprisoned in Haiti for his staunch support of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and criticism of the interim government installed in 2004, died Wednesday in Miami. He was 62.

The cause was complications of a stroke and a lung problem, his brother Kernst told The Associated Press.

Father Gerry, as he was often called, came to prominence in the late 1970s as director of the Haitian Refugee Center in Miami, where he became a vocal advocate of Haitians seeking asylum in the United States. Through demonstrations and legal action, he fought tirelessly to force the United States government to change its policy of regarding Haitians as economic rather than political refugees, in sharp contrast to its policy toward Cubans.

After decades spent in exile from the governments of François Duvalier and his son, Jean-Claude, he returned to Haiti in 1991 when Mr. Aristide was elected president, taking the post of minister representing Haitians abroad. His fearless criticism of the government installed to replace Mr. Aristide, and his work for the poor at the Church of Ste. Claire, in Delmas, a suburb of the capital, Port-au-Prince, made him one of Haiti’s most popular political figures.

Father Jean-Juste (pronounced zhahn-ZHOOST) was born in Cavaillon, Haiti, and studied for the priesthood in Canada. In 1971 he became the first Haitian ordained in the United States in a ceremony at the Church of St. Avila in Brooklyn, where he was a deacon. He then returned to Haiti and worked in a remote parish. An adherent of liberation theology, he regarded political activity and service to the poor as his priestly mission.

He left for the United States in 1971 after refusing to sign an oath of loyalty to the government of Jean-Claude Duvalier. While living and working at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston, he earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering technology from Northeastern University in 1974 and a second bachelor’s in civil engineering from Northeastern in 1977.

In the 1970s, facing political turmoil and grinding poverty, thousands of desperate Haitians sought asylum and economic opportunity in the United States, where they were put into detention centers and, in all but a small number of cases, sent back to Haiti. Father Jean-Juste helped found the Haitian Refugee Center to help refugees, protest government immigration laws and fight local discrimination. He was often seen, bullhorn in hand, at the head of street demonstrations.

“Haitian people had no rights in Haiti, and they have no rights here,” he told The Miami Herald in 1980. “They are starving, they are being separated from their families, they cannot work.”

Marleine Bastien, executive director of the nonprofit organization Haitian Women of Miami, told The Associated Press: “We were out in the streets, demonstrating nearly every day on behalf of other Haitian immigrants. I can still in my mind’s eye see him lying on the ground when buses were taking refugees without process — lying there in the path of the buses.”

Father Jean-Juste also incurred the wrath of the archdiocese of Miami by conducting funeral services for non-Catholic Haitians who drowned at sea and by picketing Archbishop Edward McCarthy of Miami, who he said was a racist failing to defend the rights of Haitian refugees.

“When he first came to the Haitian Refugee Center, most of the church agencies wanted to treat the Haitian refugee issue as one of charity,” Jack Lieberman, a founder of the refugee center, told New Times, a Miami newspaper, in 2005. “Jean-Juste pointed out that there was an injustice.”

In 1980 the center won an important victory when a district court, ruling that the Immigration and Naturalization Service had committed “wholesale violations of due process” and shown racial bias in ordering mass deportations of refugees, ordered that new hearings be held for the more than 4,000 Haitian refugees represented in the class-action suit brought by the center and other organizations.

Father Jean-Juste’s return to Haiti in 1991 plunged him into the country’s turbulent politics. When Mr. Aristide was ousted by a military coup after seven months in office, Father Jean-Juste went into hiding for three years, resurfacing when Mr. Aristide returned to the presidency in 1994. He resumed his work as a rector at the Church of Ste. Claire, in the Delmas district of Port-au-Prince, where he operated a soup kitchen to feed the poor.

After Mr. Aristide was deposed a second time, in 2004, by a rebellion, Father Jean-Juste became a target of the interim government, which arrested and imprisoned him twice. After his second arrest, in July 2005, he faced charges of involvement in the death of Jacques Roche, a journalist.

By then, he was being put forward as a candidate himself, and the murder charges, universally regarded as politically motivated, caused an international outcry from human rights organizations. After several months, the main charges were dropped, but he was indicted on lesser charges of weapons possession and criminal conspiracy. While he was imprisoned, his supporters tried to register him as a candidate for the 2006 presidential elections, a move that was blocked by the government.

In December 2005 Father Saint-Juste discovered that he had leukemia, and in early 2006 he was released from prison to seek treatment in a Miami hospital. In November 2007 he appeared before an appeals court in Haiti to answer remaining charges against him. Questioned about weapons, he told the judge, “My rosary is my only weapon.” Eventually all charges against him were dropped.

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Great Post about a Great Man

See this post in Haitian Blogger.

Father Jean-Juste---1947-2009

Father Jerry Jean-Juste died yesterday afternoon.

He tirelessly worked for the people of Haiti for decades.

He pleaded at Mass for the help of Saint Jude.

My wife and I knew him as a man of his word. He always followed through no matter how big or small the issue.

Father was courageous also. He never backed down.

Rest in peace, Father. And when you bump into Saint Jude, tell him to not forget Haiti.

See Erlizdanto's blog for article regarding Father Jean-Juste.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Defiance in Soleil

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

This is Modjina

Modjina is seven years old.

One of the leaflets on her mitral valve does not work properly and this causes fluid to leak backwards into her lungs.

She is chronic congestive heart and needs her mitral valve repaired or replaced.

She is taking medication in Haiti that allows her to walk around and do pretty well.

But she definitely needs heart surgery to have a good long life.

Can you help find a medical center for her?

Faces of Soleil

Can you imagine living here?

Hundreds of thousands of people living like rats.

How would you feel?

Like a human?

Faces of Soleil

This baby was found when she was a newborn in a garbage dump. Her umbilical cord was still attached.

She has "vertical talus", a type of clubfoot.

Haitian babies are not starter babies. They belong in their mother's arms.

Faces of Soleil

The mothers who bring their babies to the clinic in Soleil simply do not have enough food in their shacks to give their babies.

I can't remember examining one baby that had eaten on the morning of the exam.

And when I asked the mother what the baby had eaten the day before, the answer was a little white rice, possibly with some bean sauce. Maybe a little bullion, water with some Maggie in it.

The babies have frequent espisodes of diarrhea and respiratory and skin infections. Their mothers very "matter-of-factly" tell me how their baby vomits long white worms. Kind of like us saying "my baby had the sniffles today".

The kids are apathetic, have a red tint to their hair, do not smile, and like their mothers, are just trying to make it through another day in Soleil.