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Haiti, U.S.A.: Remembering Fr. Jean-Juste

Categories: Caribbean, North America, Haiti, U.S.A., Digital Activism, Elections, Health, History, Human Rights, Humanitarian Response, International Relations, Law, Media & Journalism, Migration & Immigration, Politics, Protest, Refugees, Religion

Blogger tributes are pouring in for the late Fr. Gérard Jean-Juste [1], a Haitian [2] Roman Catholic [3] priest who was known by his admirers as a champion of the poor and an ardent supporter of the Fanmi Lavalas [4] political party [5], headed by ousted President Jean Bertrand Aristide [6].

Father Gerard Jean-Juste [7]“, photo by danny.hammontree, used under a Creative Commons license [8]. Visit danny.hammontree's flickr photostream [9].

Jean-Juste gained global attention in 2005, when he was arrested for the murder of Haitian journalist Jacques Roche [10], a move that his supporters say was politically motivated – Haitian blogger Wadner Pierre [11] called it “a flagrant act of political repression.” Soon after his arrest, Amnesty International [12] named Fr. Jean-Juste a “prisoner of conscience” [13]; after about six months in custody, the charges were dropped and he was freed. He was also granted a temporary release by the interim Haitian government, allowing him to travel to the United States to receive medical treatment for the leukemia [14] with which he had been recently diagnosed [15].

Free Father Gerard Jean-Juste1 [16]“, photo by danny.hammontree, used under a Creative Commons license [8]. Visit danny.hammontree's flickr photostream [9].

Cancer wasn't the only enemy Fr. Jean-Juste was battling – even after the murder charges against him were dropped, he continued to stave off charges [17] of firearm possession and conspiracy [18], even though no evidence had ever been produced to substantiate the allegations [19]. Haiti, Land of Freedom [20], happily marked the day (June 19, 2008) that the priest was free of all charges:

Father Jean Juste spoke with HaitiAnalysis by telephone from his parish in Haiti – the Church of Saint Claire – where a boisterous celebration was well underway. “I thank my Lord Jesus” he said. “I believed He would not abandon me. I forgive everybody who contributed in my two illegal arrests, which could have cost me my life. I could have died in jail. Now I can continue serving the poor.”

The Catholic Church hierarchy in Haiti suspended Jean Juste for political activity rather than speak out in his support while he was imprisoned. Asked about the suspension, which has outraged his numerous supporters, Jean Juste expressed confidence that it would be lifted.

“I am not guilty and they will reject their decision to allow me to do my job at the church as Jesus did until the last minute before he betrayed and arrested”.

Parish priests like Jean Juste, and Jean Betrand Aristide formed part of the ti legliz (little church) movement. It distinguished itself by opposing the dictatorship of Jean Claude Duvalier.

“Jean-Juste in Miami” [21], photo by Robert Miller, used under a Creative Commons license [22]. Visit Robert Miller's flickr photostream [23].

On May 27, 2009, Fr. Gérard Jean-Juste became free of all earthly shackles as well, passing away at the age of 62 [24]. Bloggers continue to pay their respects: Dying in Haiti [25] republishes [26] Fr. Jean-Juste's obituary by The New York Times [27], and remembered his many good deeds…

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.

The Haitian Blogger [28] republishes an article by Professor Bell Angelot:

Father Jean Juste was always coupled to what’s just and morally right.

A powerful spirit has left this earth, and our mourning darkens the whole city. A griot left for eternity and the whole tribe is in tears. But though the prophet is gone, his light remains. The Haitian community of Miami has just rung the toll to announce in pain, and in a flood of tears the departure from this planet of Reverend Father Gérard Jean-Juste. Father Jean-Juste was one of the pioneers of Liberation Theology alongside Jean Bertrand Aristide of Haiti, Leonardo Boff of Nicaragua and Oscar Romero of Salvador.

Father Jean Juste was the flag bearer for Haitian immigrant rights, for those without papers, for those who braved the shark-infested seas and for whom Temporary Protected Status (TPS) [29] is still denied. Father Jean Juste was a man of justice, his very name called forth what’s just.

Finally, Repeating Islands [30] remembers Jean-Juste as the man who “waged a relentless battle against unequal treatment for Haitians in the courts, the media, the streets, and occasionally, from jail”, noting that “reactions to Jean-Juste’s death underscore his commitment to the Haitian people.”