ROME – After the kidnapping of 17 American and Canadian missionaries in Haiti earlier this week, one of the country’s bishops has issued a direct appeal to the abductors, asking them to show mercy and saying they will have to answer for their actions before God.
In an Oct. 19 appeal on social media, which was also published in Haiti’s daily newspaper, Bishop Pierre-André Dumas of the Diocese of Anse-à-Veau and Miragoâne asked the kidnappers that the hostages be freed “unconditionally.”
“I learned with great dismay and horror the sad news of the kidnapping,” he said, adding, “My heart as a shepherd of souls remains deeply shaken by this wicked and hateful act which continues to debase once again the already too tarnished image of our beautiful and dear wounded country of Haiti, and to mortgage our ancestors’ ideal of freedom, of fraternity, and of equality.”
Dumas made a personal appeal to the kidnappers “to show some humanity, to have mercy on these foreign aid workers who came to help build an orphanage for poor Haitian children and orphans, and to unconditionally release these innocent victims, who include women and small children.”
“I appeal to the fundamental goodness that was placed into the heart of each of you by the Creator,” he said, and cautioned that those responsible for the crime “will certainly have to answer one day before God, before their conscience, and before the court of history for their unworthy and inhuman acts committed against their brothers and sisters in humanity.”
Dumas’s appeal comes after 17 missionaries – 16 Americans and 1 Canadian – were kidnapped by gang members outside Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, on Oct. 16. Among those kidnapped are several children, aged 15, 13, 6, 3, and eight months.
The group was in Haiti working with Christian Aid Ministries, which is based in Millersburg, Ohio. They were taken after visiting an orphanage in Croix-des-Bouquets, a northeast suburb of Port-au-Prince.
A local gang called the 400 Mawozo, which is widely considered to be in control of Croix-des-Bouquets and the surrounding area, claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and have reportedly demanded a ransom of $17 million – $1 million per person.
The FBI is currently involved in attempts to locate the missionaries and to get them released.
In a video posted to social media Thursday, the supposed leader of the 400 Mawozo, Wilson Joseph, threatened violence if their demands were not met, saying, “I swear by thunder that if I don’t get what I’m asking for, I will put a bullet in the heads of these Americans.”
He also threatened Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry, and the chief of Haiti’s national police, Léon Charles. Speaking in front of coffins that apparently contained the remains of several members of his gang who were recently killed, he said, “You guys make me cry. I cry water. But I’m going to make you guys cry blood.”
This abduction is the latest sign of Haiti’s deteriorating political, social, and economic crisis following the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moise in July and a massive 7.2 magnitude earthquake that struck in August.
Over the past few months, these crises have led to civil unrest, gang violence, and a general lack of security, including numerous kidnappings.
According to data released by the Center for Analysis and Research on Human Rights (CARDH), 628 people have been kidnapped so far this year in Haiti, including 29 foreigners.
In a recent op-ed following his Oct. 12-19 visit to Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti, Italian Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, head of the Pontifical Academy for Life, reflected on his two-day stop in Haiti, saying he was shocked by “the spectacle of swarms of children and piles of garbage” in the streets.
Referring to the recent spat of kidnappings and ransom demands, he lamented that this has become “one of the main sources of income for quite a few young people.”
“There are virtually no job prospects; the most prosperous one is kidnapping. Haiti seems to have nothing to give to the 65 percent of its population who are under 25,” he said, adding, “When it comes to women, their fate is even sadder and full of violence: surviving hunger is not always a harbinger of good news. The exploitation of girls and children is a daily habit.”
In his appeal, Dumas made a direct appeal to political authorities in Haiti, asking them to do everything in their power to obtain a peaceful release of the missionaries, and he also asked that “the countries that call themselves friends of Haiti to help Haiti put an end to these inhuman acts which degrade the country and impede the future of so many young people.”
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen