World Council of Churches Office of Communication
Press Update
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19 May 2000

A time of anxiety and hope:
Konrad Raiser reviews his visit to Haiti

cf. WCC Press Release, No. 00-14, of 9 May 2000
cf. WCC Press Update, No. 00-11, of 16 May 2000

Faced with an almost total lack of public services, Haitian society has shown itself to be extraordinarily resilient and the churches are playing a vital role as the private sector steps in to keep the country running. With only a few days to go before the parliamentary elections in Haiti, the general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC) takes stock of his visit to the country.

As general secretary of the World Council of Churches, Konrad Raiser has visited many countries, but for him the case of Haiti is unique. Nowhere else does the state fulfil its duties in such minimal fashion. As a result, society, including the churches, has been forced to organize itself to cope with the situation, and the suprising effectiveness of the many private bodies and institutions functioning with the scantest of means, is a testimony to the tremendous resilience of the Haitian people.

The main aim of this first visit by a WCC general secretary was the modest one of restoring contact with the country's churches, at the request of the Haitian Protestant Federation. Beyond that, however, Konrad Raiser said he was very glad to be able to express the WCC's solidarity at this time of great insecurity, but also of hope, on the eve of the general elections to be held on 21 May. If these are properly conducted, they should mark the start of a process leading to the restoration of democratic institutions in Haiti.

In his conversations with the Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis and also with leaders of the opposition, Konrad Raiser reiterated the Haitian churches' growing concern about the economic, social and political crisis which has brought the people of Haiti into desperate straits. In a climate of sharper political confrontation and violence than ever before, Konrad Raiser called on the politicians to put their partisan struggles behind them and give more thought to the interests of the Haitian people. Again supporting the Haitian churches, Raiser emphasized that without political stability, the people's confidence in their authorities could never be restored, nor would the international aid that the country so desperately needs be forthcoming.

The WCC delegation took the opportunity of this visit to make concrete proposals to the Haitian churches. The Federation of Protestant Schools in Haiti, for example, faces a huge problem in that many of its teachers are not adequately trained. In a country where illiteracy is widespread, many teachers do not have the training that would be required. Many other churches in Asia, Africa or the Pacific, which likewise play an important role in education in their respective countries, could share their experience in this field with the churches of Haiti. Konrad Raiser hopes to be able to put these different church institutions in touch with one another. A team of educational specialists from the WCC could visit the Haitian churches soon to work out a strategy with them so that they can benefit from the experience of churches elsewhere in the world, and the models they have already developed.

The WCC could also to help the Haitian churches carry out a diagnostic study of their development projects in the country. Initiatives in this respect are legion, but so fragmented that overseas partners and donors often do not know who to entrust with which project, nor on what scale. As is already the practice in other countries, the WCC suggests choosing a well-structured organization in the country to act as the main contact for ecumenical partners.

Konrad Raiser's visit was greatly appreciated for the support it brought to the Haitian churches in their civic struggle for greater justice and social peace, as well as for the proposals for practical exchanges with churches around the world, and organizational support.

For more information contact:
the Media Relations Office
tel.: (+41 22) 791 6153 (office);
e-mail: media
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The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 337, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.