Port au Prince, Haiti: Religious Freedom Celebrated in the Aftermath of the Tragic Earthquake
The first Congress of Religious Freedom was held in Port au Prince Haiti on February 20 to 22, with the theme of “Religious Freedom – A Value to Protect!”
It was a successful event beginning on Thursday evening with an opening meeting where officials and religious leaders attended. The speakers included the President of the Court of Appeal who chairs the Superior Council of the Judiciary Power, the Supreme Court’s President, the Minister Delegate for Human Rights, the Director of Religious Affairs, the Mayor of the city of Petionville, the President of the Protestant Federation of Haiti, and other religious representatives. IRLA Secretary General Dr. John Graz congratulated the organizers of this First Congress and thanked the Government of Haiti for the protection of religious freedom. The presence of the French Protestant Federation’s President, Pastor Francois Clavairoly, with a delegation from Paris, brought an international dimension to the event. Pastor Clavairoly said that religious freedom is a precious value and should be protected by the authorities. On Friday, 200 participants attended to the Symposium held at the Adventist University of Haiti. A religious liberty concert followed.
On Saturday morning, a religious service was offered in the presence of more than 1,000 people. The IRLA was also represented by Pastor Roberto Herrera, the IRLA Secretary General for the Inter-America Region. The Salvation Army leaders and the Secretary of the Inter-American Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Dr. Elie Henry brought the support of their organizations to this event. The main organizers of the event, Pastor Theart St Pierre and Pastor Pierre Caporal said that such event has given a great opportunity for people of good will to be together to promote religious liberty.
The Festival of Religious Freedom, which was part of the congress, was held in the Auditorium de la Bible on Saturday afternoon. More than 3,000 people enjoyed a musical program which included several choirs, musicians, and singers. They all stood and said: “We love religious freedom and we want to keep it.”
The First Haitian Congress of Religious Freedom ended with the reading of the resolutions. Among them were the decisions to hold a major Festival of Religious Freedom in 2015 (with an expected 15,000 people to attend), to organize the Haitian Religious Liberty Association, and to propose to the government the creation of a National Religious Freedom day.
Haiti has been known for many natural calamities and political instability. The city of Port au Prince is still in a state of reconstruction after the earthquake in 2010. The people of Haiti have shown a great courage and an extraordinary capacity of surviving tragedy after tragedy. Religious freedom is one of the treasure the Haitians have and want to keep. They, like other people, have not been totally immune of acts of intolerance but they largely accept freedom for religions and believers. It was in this context, that the first Congress of Religious Freedom was held in Port au Prince.
We look forward to the second Festival of Religious Freedom in Port au Prince, already planned for 2015.
--Dr. John Graz, Secretary General, International Religious Liberty Association