Taking a page out of the Gospel of Pat Robertson, Chibly Langlois, Haiti’s first Roman Catholic cardinal revealed the “big social problem” in Haiti: Vodou. He argued that Vodou offers “magic” but no real solutions to a population deprived of justice and a political voice.
“If a person is well educated and has the financial means, they will go to a doctor [instead of the Vodou priest] when they get sick. If that same person went to the court to get justice they would not go to the Vodou priest to get revenge. It’s a big problem for the church. And for Haiti," Langlois said.
This uncritical scapegoating of the Vodou religion (called Santeria in Cuba and Candomblé in Brazil) as the source of Haiti’s problems is typical amongst Catholics and their evangelical Christian counterparts. It implies that Christianity provides you not only with enlightenment from your backwards ways, but financial gains…I guess Italy and Greece just haven’t been praying hard enough!
In my travels around Haiti, I have come across many villages where there is no police presence and nor is there a clinic nearby for basic care, often leaving the Vodou priest or priestess( hougans and manbos) to serve every role from midwife to judge and jury. Yet Langlois and the Catholic Church he represents remain silent on the deeply imbedded inequality in Haiti and a Haitian government more interested in attracting foreign tourists by any means than providing basic social services to its people. He also fails to critique the international community who have little to show for $9 billion funneled through international contractors and NGOs in Haiti with little accountability since the 2010 earthquake.
Contrary to the Cardinal’s statement, Vodou is not Haiti’s problem; Christianity is. No push to spread Vodou ever wiped out entire “savage” indigenous peoples. Vodou has caused no wars due to a desire to convert as many people as possible. Vodou doesn’t tell “saved souls” that they must be complacent, accepting their lot on Earth for the potential of future salvation in heaven. Vodou never told Black people they were a curse or 3/5ths of a person.
Vodou is of the belief system that sustained our ancestors across the Middle Passage, during the brutality of the plantation, and through the victories of slave rebellions. Haiti should never apologize for it.
Christianity and the West’s real problem with Vodou is that, like the Maroons who practiced it, it remains elusive to those who would aim to profit off of it, package it, and control it. Unlike Hinduism or Buddhism, Westerners can’t take a “spiritual journey” to Haiti to “find themselves” in a Vodou temple. Vodou remains a religion steeped in African traditions, for people of African descent, and based on an understanding of the linkages between the natural and spiritual world—Hollywood can’t make a Julia Roberts movie out of that.
When it comes to the poor and most vulnerable, the Catholic Church with its $10- $15 billion in wealth looks less like the teachings of Christ and more like a big corporation. For centuries the Church has been complacent in, and at times profited from, slavery, the Holocaust, selling babies, and, most recently, the sexual abuse of children. I have encountered many wealthy preachers and priests, but I have yet to meet a rich hougan.
Haiti and all the worlds’ poor need a Cardinal that can speak up for “real solutions to a population deprived of justice and a political voice” such as a judicial system free from corruption and accessible to all its people, access to quality healthcare for all regardless of income, free and compulsory primary education, and jobs that pay a living wage. Or even a Cardinal who can simply stand up to a UN who refuses to acknowledge its responsibility for a cholera epidemic that’s killed 9,000+ Haitians. A Church that remains silent on all these issues is a problem.
Unfortunately, it’s far easier for Langlois to shame the poor and Vodouists rather than risk his position in the gilded halls of the Vatican by taking a stand for social justice. As Gandhi once lamented, “You Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
France François is the blogger behind the Black in Cairo blog and has a background in development and conflict resolution. Tweet her: @frenchieglobal