Theology Thursdays: Haiti Priest Calls For National Unity by Stevenson Jacobs

A prominent Roman Catholic priest who was released from prison to seek medical treatment in the United States returned to Haiti on Friday and urged his countrymen to put aside differences and work to uplift the impoverished country.

About 200 supporters gathered at Port-au-Prince's airport to greet the Rev. Gerard Jean-Juste, who made his first visit to Haiti since leaving the country in January 2006 to seek treatment for leukemia.

"I just have to give all glory to God for allowing me to be alive so I could come back to my country," a healthy looking Jean-Juste told reporters after arriving from Miami.

The 61-year-old priest is an influential advocate for Haiti's poor and a prominent supporter of ousted former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who left the country in 2004 amid a rebellion.

In 2005, the U.S.-backed interim government jailed Jean-Juste on suspicion of involvement in the killing of prominent Haitian journalist and poet Jacques Roche. A judge cleared him of homicide but indicted him on weapons possession and criminal conspiracy charges that Jean-Juste denies and that international human rights have alleged were politically motivated.

Jean-Juste did not address his imprisonment but called for several jailed supporters to be freed and for Aristide to be allowed to return to Haiti, steps he said were needed to heal the deeply divided country.

"I want to call for a change of heart and so we can find ways to move forward together," Jean-Juste said after addressing supporters at his St. Claire Church.

Jean-Juste has drawn comparisons to Aristide, himself a former priest, for his impassioned sermons and advocacy for the poor. The priest's supporters tried to register him as a presidential candidate for the 2006 elections, but authorities barred his candidacy because he was in prison.

This article is published by The Associated Press

Thursday, August 23, 2007