By Jean H Charles
I have often featured Reverend Alphonse Quesnel, my parish vicar, in this column. I thought he represents a true man of God, a priest’s priest! He runs St Louis King of France parish de Turgeau with a dexterity and a piety that is contagious. My father of 100-years-old gets himself ready around three o’clock in the morning for the dominical service at six-thirty. In fact most of the parishioners are present one hour before the Sunday mass to recite the rosary in preparation for the religious service.
Jean Hervé Charles LLB, MSW, JD, former Vice-Dean of Students at City College of the City University of New York, is now responsible for policy and public relations for the political platform in power in Haiti, Répons Peyisan. He can be reached at: jeanhcharles@aol
Father Quesnel is witty, funny and serious. His homily is a teaching experience that lasts a full week, until the next Sunday. How Pope Benedict knew that Father Quesnel was his best pick for the next bishop in Haiti will remain in the secret practice of the Vatican. It is clear though that Father Quesnel has exhibited his leadership skills for all to see after the earthquake that destroyed the capital city of Port au Prince in general and most of the catholic churches in particular. The century old St Louis chapel was completely flattened by the cataclysm.
Father Quesnel immediately rebuilt a makeshift church in the parking lot of the old church, much bigger, and more intimate than the previous one. As funding is being sought to rebuild the church, the parishioners are true witnesses of the fact that God needs not a splendid cathedral to be amongst two or three who assemble together to give Him glory!
Father Quesnel runs a fully fledged operation that includes a refugee camp, an elementary school, a health clinic and religious retreat, preaching not only in Haiti but also in the United States and Canada, all with the feeling that he is as close to you as your best friend.
The Catholic Church represents, as I have said before in a previous column, an organic structure of the soul and the spirit of the Haitian people. Whether they are Baptist, Adventist or Voodoo practitioners, the children of the Haitian middle class attend a Catholic school. The good nuns of the Catholic Church provide an extraordinary education and formation to the young men and ladies of the republic.
Whether Haiti can count on the Catholic Church in its nation building process, will rest on the shoulders of Bishop Quesnel? Archbishop Guire Poulard, who recommended father Quesnel to the Pope as an auxiliary bishop, has recognized his leadership qualities, of quiet hand at work that involved everybody together with the feeling they are on the driving wheel.
Haiti, after more than two hundred years as a free nation, is still in the position of birthing. The majority of its population, whether in the far away mountains or in the slums of the cities, the men, women and children live in conditions that are beneath the dignity reserved for a human being modeled in God’s image.
The story of Haiti with the Catholic Church has been a tumultuous one. After the independence of the country, the Vatican participated into the ostracism of the new nation. It withdrew all its priests. It took 60 years for the negotiations to bring fruits and the Vatican to establish a formal agreement with the Republic of Haiti.
The Holy See, through a Concordat signed on March 28, 1860, (the fourth in the world) engaged into a special relationship with Haiti. The president of Haiti in article 4 of the Concordat has the authority to recommend a name for bishop to the Pope but only the dictator Francois Duvalier exercised that authority during the 150-year existence of the Concordat.
In 1862, an amendment to the Concordat gave considerable privileges to the Church to develop secular education in the country. It did a magnificent job but restricted its teaching to the children of the elite in the cities, not reaching out to the countryside, where the majority of the population was still practicing voodoo as a solution to their spiritual and their material needs.
In the 1960s, Francois Duvalier Haitianized the church, naming bishops that he exiled later (Remy, Ligondé) when they stood against his dictatorial practices. The radicalization of the Haitian clergy facilitated the end of the Duvalier regime père et fils. Led by the Holy Ghost -- Spiritain priests with leaders like Father Adrien and Smart, who were also exiled by Duvalier, the Catholic Church became the driving force in taking the rein of power. In spite of the opposition of the Vatican, the Spiritain group forced the candidature of a radical priest, Jean Bertrand Aristide, as president of Haiti in 1991.
For the last twenty five years the country took a turn for the worse where, using the veil of democracy, anarchy became the rule and the practice in the res republica. Using the lowest standard of evaluation, the culture bought into the country after 1991, by the Holy Ghost fathers (Spiritain) has been a devastating one. The nation is still in state of convulsion where, parodying the language of Thomas Friedman, Haiti now needs to develop the kind of culture of dialogue, of peaceful and respectful arguing -- it was totally suppressed under Aristide -- rather than rock-throwing, boycotting, conspiracy-mongering and waiting for America to denounce one side or the other, which has characterized too much of the post-revolutionary political scene.
Enter the Monfortain Fathers, with a culture that the business of the state should remain with the state and the business of the church should be restricted to changing the hearts and the souls. The Monfortain institution in Haiti includes seven bishops on its roster, with Bishop Quesnel the fifth Haitian one. I met Bishop Quesnel one day before his ordination scheduled for 22nd December 2012. With his characteristic humor, he told his congregation that he was happy the ceremony will take place on the 22nd instead of the 21st, otherwise the end of the world could interfere with the solemnity of the day.
Bishop Quesnel was born in Port au Prince, the youngest of a family of seven children. He studied with the sacred heart brothers and the Canado Institute run by the same institution. His theological instruction took place at the Grand Seminary of Turgeau, run by the Jesuits and the priests of St Viateur. Upon ordination as a priest, he was assigned to parishes in Cape Haitian, Port de Paix and finally in Port au Prince. The whole bio was spiced by a stint as Superior of the Monfortain in Haiti.
I shared with Father Quesnel my concern that Haiti knew its own demonic fight when a group of priests chose to enter into the realm of real politics, destroying the only bond that glued the different classes together for generations, the glue of noblesse oblige. The Catholic Church owes the Haitian nation reparation by sending priests and nuns to rural Haiti to continue to continue the process of education and civilization in the country side.
The Monfortain priests, under the leadership of now Bishop Kesnel, will have to lead this fight creating a Haiti that moves from the doctrine of noblesse oblige to the doctrine of hospitality for all. The prayers of the good people of the world should surround Bishop Kesnel in his pastoral mission.