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Commentary: Haiti has its first cardinal, after more than 150 years of relations with the Vatican
Published on February 22, 2014 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Jean H Charles

Pope Francis 1, like God, is having fun multiplying the pleasant surprises in different parts of the world. On the day of the anniversary of the devastating earthquake that visited Haiti some four years ago, he named Bishop Chibly Langlois, 55, Haiti’s first and youngest cardinal at the College of Cardinals in Rome.

Jean H Charles LLB, MSW, JD is a syndicated columnist with Caribbean News Now. He can be reached at: and followed for past essays at Caribbeannewsnow/Haiti
I met Bishop Langlois some five years ago, as I was travelling on a commuter plane from Cape Haitian to Port au Prince. My first impression was that the bishop was young and handsome. Upon some chitchat on the tarmac, my second impression was Bishop Langlois was simple and humble, not impressed with the aura associated with his rank as His Eminence.

Ordained a priest in 1991, a tumultuous year, when a priest became president of Haiti in spite of Rome’s expressed condemnation of such a move, Bishop Langlois, a native of the rural village of La Vallee de Jacmel, gravitated though the ranks expeditiously, with a strong education behind him, to become bishop of Fort Liberty, a diocese that could serve as a model for the other dioceses of Haiti.

Indeed, the Brittany clergy brought civilization and Christianity to the 142 towns of Haiti, but it was the mission of the Haitian clergy to follow through and bring civilization and Christianity to the remaining 565 rural villages. The diocese of Fort Liberty, amongst all the ten dioceses of Haiti, is closer to that reality. It is indeed the opus of Bishop Langlois’ predecessor, Bishop Hubert Constant, but His Eminence Chibly Langlois has pursued this mission with a passion.

I have in mind the story of a Haitian priest sent to France for further study and who was offered a plush assignment by his resident vicar. Upon a request to Bishop Langlois to release the priest for that assignment, Bishop Langlois told the French vicar a rural and poor parish was long in waiting for the priest. He should come back to Haiti in a hurry. I was there recently to attend the celebration of the Virgin of Altagracia on January 21 in the village of Roche Plate. The priest and the parish was the only vector of development in the area in spite of the fact that the site is the focus of gold prospecting by a Canadian company, which is exploring for the precious metal in the region.

Hopefully, Cardinal Langlois will use his influence to help those priests in the rural devastated regions of Haiti where the school is under a tent, where there are no medical facilities for the villagers and where the only contribution or income from the parishioners to the church does not amount to $1,000 per year from the whole village.

Cardinal Chibly Langlois. Photo: Television Nationale D’Haiti
Bishop Chibly Langlois did not know that he was going to be named cardinal by the pope when he undertook, as the presiding bishop of the Council of Bishops of Haiti, a difficult and unusual task of mediator between the political parties, the executive and the parliament in resolving the country political crisis exhibited in a lack of confidence between the different parties to work together for the good of the country.

As an official of one of the major parties of the country (Repons Paysan) I had the privilege to watch closely the mediation skills of the cardinal as he went through the maze of Haiti’s tricky politicians who are not used to put in the balance the common good as well as the best interest of the population in their decision making process. His ethical compass was always in the right direction, refusing to enter into any self-serving detour imposed by either party.

Cardinal Langlois has succeeded in obtaining an agreement from all the parties to institute a new paradigm that will put the country into the path of true democracy and welfare for all. It is true the final signing of the document was postponed due to the inflexibility of a part of the Haitian Senate but the momentum of this historical tête a tête will linger for a while in the Haitian political canvas.

The Catholic Church, as in several instances in its two millennia of existence, is confronting these days some profound crises. The issue of pedophilia condoned by some bishops, mainly in the United States, has caused a hemorrhagic depletion of capital that could be used for church business and purpose. My own observation, often related in this column, is that the Catholic Church is an excellent incubator of misery, hypocrisy, and dissent amongst the people where the Catholic Church finds its most fervent zouailles.

The fact is, which is criticized by its own Pope Francis, that a legion of priests in the parishes are more interested in conducting a business venture instead of being a spiritual venue where hearts are called upon to become lovers of God and guardians of their brethren.

It is pleasing that the pope has chosen Bishop Langlois for cardinal. He was not in the avant-garde in denouncing the misdeeds of the past governments; he was rather the priest-priest who was working with each one of his pastors to relieve the souls and the body of the modern world where neo slavery in debauchery, exploitation and venality is the gold standard of today’s practice, whether in poor Haiti or in rich United States.

I have followed Bishop Langlois for 15 days of the national negotiation sessions. He was gentle, calm and hospitable, in spite of the enormity of multiple tasks of taking care of his diocese in Les Cayes, working on the national mediation and preparing himself to travel to Rome for the investiture ceremony.

I came back with the same impression that I had the first time I met Bishop Chibly Langlois on the tarmac in Cape Haitian. He will be going places. With his negotiation skills, his clear intellect, his patience, his wit and his take no prisoner attitude in defusing the politicians’ innate tendency to bifurcate the true interests of their constituency, I foresee he will be called upon by the pope to different parts of the world where conflict is an everyday event, to bring about solace and incremental steps to ease those tensions. This calling goes into the mission of his native country Haiti that sees itself as a redemptory tool placed on earth by God to bring hospitality for all as a key ingredient in nation building.

Cardinal Langlois is only 55, since he is fluent in Italian, with the wonderful traits of a well-educated Haitian, self-assured in his skin colour that makes no difference whether he is black or white, after habemus Papam from Argentina, Latin America; we may be gifted at the end of this Francis 1 papacy with a habemus Papam from Haiti in the Caribbean.
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