The Catholic charismatic movement in Haiti, one of the fastest growing and largest in the world, is helping the church rebound from losses to Protestant groups and is poised to be a major social force in the country, writes Terry Rey in an article in Pneuma, a biannual journal on Pentecostalism (issue 32, 2010).
In an in-depth ethnographic study of Haiti’s charismatic movement (which was written before the earthquake, although Rey adds in a footnote that some of the renewal’s leading parishes, such as Sacred Heart Church, were destroyed in the disaster), Rey finds that the growth of the charismatic movement has dramatically slowed the growth of Haitians joining Protestant, ofte Pentecostal, churches. This is because Catholic churches and priests influenced by the renewal have, like the Pentecostals, sought to provide Haitians with supernatural “protection” from Voodoo and other ancestor-based religions, mainly through veneration of the Virgin Mary and Michael the Archangel.
In fact, the Pentecostal and Catholic charismatic growth in Haiti has been significant in halting—and probably even reversing—the growth of Voodoo in recent years, Rey writes. Yet the growth of the charismatic renewal has been criticized by some Haitian Catholic leaders and theologians as rolling back the influence of the liberation theology-inspired movement known as Tilegliz. As with other liberation theology movements in Latin America, the Tilegliz movement created “base communities” to empower lay activism against authoritarian government, such as the Duvalier regime of the 1980s.
Rey writes that by the 1990s, the movement had failed to sustain much support from the masses, who became as disenchanted with calls for revolution as they were with promises of democracy as the country moved toward a state of disintegration. He concludes by noting that the Catholic charismatics have clearly eschewed the confrontational politics of Tilegliz, but these Catholics and their co-religionists in other parts of the world have been called “Progressive Pentecostals” as they “seem now to be rekindling an interest in humanitarianism, if not yet political reform.”