The Carribean island nation of Haiti is the poorest country in the western Hemisphere, and has been plagued by political unrest for most of its history. Over one thousand people have been kidnapped in the former French colony this year alone. Among them was a Czech missionary - who was lucky to escape with his life.
Father Roman Musil is a missionary from the Roman Catholic Order of Mary the Immaculate, one of some two dozen Czech priests helping poor communities around the world. He looks after 250 children in a school in a northern village in Haiti. Last week, he was making the ten hour drive to the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, to stock up on food supplies when a group of armed young men stopped his car. Father Musil was then held hostage in a city slum. Luckily, he was released unharmed a few days later:
"When you look for information on Haiti on the internet, you find that it is 80 percent Catholic. So, the motive was not a religious one - as it tends to be in Muslim countries. Money was the only thing that they were interested in. Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere, so what happened was as of a result of that. I see the poverty here and people take to kidnappings in order to make some extra cash."
The kidnappers first demanded 4,000 US dollars. The ransom was paid, but the 32-year old missionary was not released. Instead, a further 50,000 US dollars was demanded. But thanks to negotiations led by another priest, who was working with the poor in the slum where Father Musil was being held, he was released a few days later, without a second ransom being paid.
"I think I was released mainly because I'm a priest. People here seem to have respect for the Church because it is one of very few institutions that is doing something to help the poor. So despite the fact that they were criminals -- and the area I was being held in was filthy and people there show few morals -- they do respect the Church. The priest who helped me, for example, provides the area with drinking water. So, when I told them that I too was a priest, they started treating me differently - not as rough as they did before."
The only car that Father Musil's parish owned was demolished by the kidnappers; all his identification and other important documents were stolen. Now, after such a traumatic experience, many of us would have packed up our bags and left. But Father Musil intends to stay:
"When someone kidnaps you and threatens to cut your head off and kill you, naturally you're terrified. What raced through my mind was that I would take the first flight home and never turn back, if I were to get out of this alive. But when I thought it over - in a broader context - how poor the country is, and why some gangs do this, I paradoxically felt sorry for them. The school that I am responsible for is in a village that no-one cares about -- and I realised that I could not leave.
"The kidnapping has actually made me stronger. Now I'm running around numerous offices to have my documents replaced in order to be able to continue working here. That's proving to be easier said than done here in Haiti - it's very time consuming and you need a lot of patience. So what frustrates me more than the kidnapping itself is the bureaucracy that has followed."
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