Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Voodoo Priest Hopes to Heal Haiti

By Andrew Mayeda, Canwest News Service

"Haitian Voodoo Ritual Objects" by Tomi Curtis
Invites all denominations to memorial service, funeral rite, to honor the country's dead

As he climbs out of his red SUV, gold chain dangling from his neck, cellphone glued to his ear, you'd never guess that Augustin St. Clou is a voodoo priest.

Perhaps that's because 18 years after the spirit of love appeared in his dreams and led him to the "mystical documents" he believes gave him his powers, St. Clou sees himself as much, much more.

He's also the founder of a charitable organization that solicits donations from countries around the world -- including Canada -- to help the poor and vulnerable in his community.

St. Clou is one of the organizers behind a national memorial service he hopes will unite voodoo followers, Catholics and Protestants to honour the dead, pray for thanks to those who survived, and rebuild the country.

"When people are sick, I heal them. If they need work, I find them a job," says St. Clou. "When a man has a problem with his woman, I fix it. It doesn't matter if you're black or white, Haitian or American, Catholic or Protestant, I can help."

A week of mourning is scheduled to begin as early as next week with a service in front of the destroyed presidential palace.

The event will include a traditional voodoo funeral rite for the more than 150,000 people who died in last month's earthquake, said Max Beauvoir, the supreme priest of Haitian voodoo. Roman Catholic and Protestant leaders have also been invited to participate.

"We want to honour all those who disappeared, but we also want to make it a celebration of life, so that the people can regain their strength," Beauvoir Told Canwest News Service in a phone interview Tuesday evening. "Because life must go on."

Few things about Haiti are as misunderstood as the practice of voodoo, which took root here hundreds of years ago, when the French brought over slaves from Africa.

Much to the disappointment of some tourists, there is no impaling of dolls with pins in Haitian voodoo. As in Christianity, however, there is a supreme deity and master creator. In the case of voodoo, God is known as Bondye.

Much of the practice, however, involves the invocation of lesser spirits known as loa that have been compared to Catholic saints. During voodoo ceremonies, followers become "possessed" by loa after an elaborate ritual that typically involves drumming, dancing and the sacrifice of animals such as goats, cows, chickens or pigs.

Honouring the dead is an important part of the tradition, which is why voodoo priests were upset when earthquake victims were buried in mass graves. Beauvoir said the national memorial will help "repair" the indignity.

"For us, it's a matter of spirits, not a matter of the body," he said.

These days, about 80 per cent of Haitians are Roman Catholic, while 16 per cent are Protestant. At the same time, roughly half the population practises some form of voodoo, which is recognized as an official religion. In other words, many Haitians see themselves as believers in both Christianity and voodoo.

Not everyone believes the two traditions should coexist. Shortly after the quake, American televangelist Pat Robertson accused Haitians of making a "pact with the devil" to overthrow their French occupiers in the early 19th century.

Standing on the dirt floor of the voodoo temple he founded, wearing a straw hat, black shirt and grey slacks, St. Clou scoffs at such notions. "If they were right, all the people in Haiti who believe in voodoo would be dead," he says. "Look at my home, look at my temple, look at my school, look at my hospital -- not a scratch."

The earthquake shouldn't be seen as a punishment imposed on sinners, he says. "God allows good things to happen, and God allows bad things to happen."

St. Clou says he decided to become a priest 18 years ago when Dantor, the voodoo spirit of love, appeared in a dream and instructed him to return to his native Jacmel, a seaside town south of the capital.

"She told me to go to the intersection shaped like a cross, and there I found the mystical documents that gave me my powers," said St. Clou, who initially asked a Canwest News reporter to make a large donation to the temple, in exchange for his story.

On the walls of the temple are painted elaborate images of various spirits, including a giant cobra, a man in chains with a key symbol on his forehead and a smiling, demon-like creature with horns and curled tail. In the corner, a haloed Dantor holds a child in her hand.

Through a non-profit organization called the Dantor Foundation for Children, St. Clou runs two schools, a hospital and an orphanage. He says the foundation is recognized as a charity in Quebec, an assertion he proves by pulling a sheaf of documents from a black binder.

"If you're recognized as a charity in Haiti, you don't have to pay any taxes," he says with a laugh.

© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal

Source: Edmonton Journal

No comments:

Post a Comment