Friday, November 8, 2013

Early Missionaries in Haiti

Spain and France competed for control of the island of Hispaniola finally settling their dispute in 1697 by dividing the island between them. France received the western third now known as Haiti.  The French developed the land into sugar cane plantations and imported thousands of slaves from Africa. 

Dominicans and the Capuchins came to Haiti with the French colonists. Dominicans concentrated their missionary efforts in the western and southern parts of the island. The Capuchins looked after the northern part of the island.  Both were assisted in their missionary activities by other orders and secular priests.  However they were unable to supply enough missionaries and the Dominicans and Capuchins withdrew from the mission in 1704.  Early missionaries to Haiti shared the guilt associated with its colonization, the enslavement of its people and the atrocities committed along with evangelization.  Dominican missionaries helped to make those atrocities known in Europe and worked to bring about justice for the natives, but that led to the tragedy of the trafficking of millions of West Africans.  Native religion mixed with the spirituality of the slaves and a distorted Catholicism marred by heretical superstitious practice evolved.   

Jesuits came after the Dominicans and Capuchins withdrew and worked in Haiti until their expulsion at the end of 1763.  Chaos followed during the period of the revolution as several priests capitulated and took the constitutional oath demanded by the government.  In the north all celebration of the Mass ceased, while in the south the apostolic prefect, Père Virot, and several priests remained and were murdered.