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Catholic Church Launches Literacy Program in Haiti

March 8, 1986

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) _ Thousands of Haitians singing Creole hymns gathered in a soccer stadium Friday for a Mass and the opening ceremonies for an adult literacy program to be administered by the Roman Catholic Church.

The goal is to teach 3.5 million adults to read and write in Creole during the next five years. The $24 million program has the support of Haiti’s six- man ruling council, all of whom attended the Mass.

It began with a slow procession of bishops between a line of singing Haitians that stretched from the stadium entrance to midfield.

The Mass was con-celebrated by Archbishop Paulo Romeo, the papal nuncio; Bishop Francois Gayot, president of the Haitian Episcopal Conference, and several U.S. bishops including the Most Rev. Daniel Reilly of Norwich, Conn., the Most Rev. Anthony Bevilacqua of Pittsburgh, and Archbishop Edward McCarthy of Miami. The American bishops represented the U.S. Catholic Conference.

The literacy program has been in the works for several years. About 7,000 Haitians already are participating in a pilot project. Illiteracy in Haiti is estimated by Catholic officials at 80 percent.

″The government has a literacy program,″ Reilly said at a news conference before the Mass. ″After 25 years, it doesn’t seem to be working.″

The church and ruling council have comfortable relations, McCarthy said, unlike church-state relations under deposed President-for-Life Jean-Claude Duvalier.

The church twice asked for permission to use the stadium to inaugurate the literacy program, one Catholic official said, and both requests were ignored by the Duvalier regime.

Duvalier fled to France Feb. 7 after more than two months of anti- government protests and violence.

The new governing council recently agreed to let the Jesuit order return to Haiti, said the Rev. William Lewers, director of the International Office for Justice and Peace for the Washington-based Catholic Conference. Lewers said the Jesuits were expelled in 1964, but he was unsure of the precise reson.

There also have been informal talks between the two sides about the new constitution the government has pledged to adopt, said the Rev. Tomasi Silvano, director of the Conference’s office of pastoral care and refugees.

The council met with bishops of the Haitian Episcopal Conference on Friday, according to a Catholic source who spoke on condition that his name not be used. The Catholic church in Haiti is strongly identified with opposition to Duvalier, who expelled the program director of the church-owned Radio Soleil and two Belgian priests last July, and shut down the station for two weeks in December. Radio Soleil is Haiti’s only national radio station.

The Catholic church has long been a factor in Haitian society. An estimated 80 percent of the nation’s 6 million people are Catholics, and they are served by a network of 171 parishes and 450 priests.

John Klink, Caribbean regional director of Catholic Relief Services, which will administer the literacy program, estimated that 60 percent of all schoolchildren in Haiti attend parochial schools, and about 150,000 children receive a daily meal at the schools.

The U.S. bishops attended several days of talks in Port-au-Prince with Gayot and other Haitian bishops. McCarthy credited the efforts of his colleagues, including the Radio Soleil news broadcasts and constant sermons promoting justice and civil rights, with helping free Haiti from the ″entrenched and oppressive dictatorship″ of Duvalier.

Reilly was to return home Saturday, and McCarthy and Bevilacqua on Sunday, after attending the ordination of a Haitian bishop, Alix Vernier in the city of Les Cayes.

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