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#1760: Pentacostal Church considering new social consciousness (fwd)

From: Max Blanchet <MaxBlanchet@worldnet.att.net>

January 5-12, 2000
Protestant Ministers call for
a New Social Consciousness

By Garry Pierre-Pierre and Darlie Gervias
Haitian Times Staff

UNIONDALE, NY- In the last four decades, Protestants,
particularly the Pentacostal Church, have made deep
inroads into the spiritual fabric of Haiti, a country that
was once a Catholic bedrock.

But in recent years there is a deep feeling among
Pentacostal Church officials that they may be losing
members and relevance because they have stuck too
rigidly to their fire and brimstone message while the
Catholic Church becomes more politically active and
speaks out against social wrongdoing in Haiti. That
debate was raging last week as thousands of
Protestant faithful flocked into the Nassau Coliseum
for the first time in a show of unity and to celebrate
2000 years of evangelisation.

As the debate continues, it may change the face of a
church that has attracted thousands because it
provided salvation and an alternative to the once stoic
Catholic Church and the ever potent Voodoo faith that is
ubiquitous in the lives of millions of Haitians. "The
Protestant church is too centered around spirituality,"
said the Rev. Philius Nicolas, the pastor at the
Evangelical Crusade of Fishers of Men in Brooklyn, a
Pentacostal Church. "We are still on earth. The church
has to speak about social reality. We need to open our
eyes to condemn and denounce abuses."

But Gregory Toussaint, a theology student from Texas
cautioned against a leap into politics saying that pastors
have a responsibility to preach with clarity and integrity.
"The message has to remain pure," Toussaint said.
"The message should not be mixed with politics, greed
and self-promotion." The prayer virgil, called Vision 2000,
was held on January 1 - Haiti's Independence Day. It was
organized by more than 50 churches and drew more than
5,000 participants from Haiti and across the United States,
including the New York region, Boston, Florida.

The throngs spent four hours praying, singing and hearing
messages of hope and unity from about six preachers. Rev.
Nicolas, the main organizer of the virgil, said that he came
up with the idea of Vision 2000 in 1995 and started working
on it a year later. The aim was to rally Haitians from all over
under one roof to usher in a new year, a new century and a
new millenium. It was broadcast live to Haiti on Radio
Lumiere in Port-au-Prince, the capital. Vision 2000 cost
about $12,500 to organize and most of the money was
raised from church members' contributions. In keeping with
the organizers's goal of being more attuned to things of
this world, the event had none of the theatrics and
verve usually associated with such gatherings.

There were shouts of Amens and Hallelujahs and polite
applauses for the four different choirs who performed that
day. But the spirits did not descend on anyone and no
one spoke in tongues. "We want a new church that
addresses the reality of the Haitian people," said the
Rev. Fenel Vixamar, pastor at the Evangelical French
Church of New York said. "The church has to be more
engaging. For the most part, the evangelist who
preaches in Haiti doesn't give the people its dignity
and pride." The Catholic Church has already taken these
steps by allying itself with the masses, Rev. Vixamar
said, echoing the feeling of many at the virgil.
Rev. Vixamar challenged Pentacostal churches to
become more like the Catholics and not remain for
the most part, the church of an individual pastor.
Catholic Masses seem to have become even more
spiritual. For instance, once staid Masses are
peppered with drumming and dancing in the pews.
Hugs and kisses are part of the celebration. The
Protestant movement became wildly popular in Haiti
in the 1960's at the time when Francois
Duvalier was solidifying its power base in Haiti.

The Catholic Church was seen by many as being
tolerant of the dictator and that turned off thousands
who were looking for spiritual guidance. It was also
more popular because Haitians believed that the
Pentacostals with their zeal could easily ward off
Voodoo spirits that haunted them, something the
Catholic Church could not do, many believed. During the
Vision 2000 gathering, young and old mixed easily in
the crowd. Some people churches set up tables to pass
out flyers and information about their churches and others
sold cassettes and books with biblical messages.

People feasted on Chicken fingers, onion rings, French
fries and washed them down with soft drinks. But spirituality
and religion reigned supreme for many on that
unseasonably warm winter day. Jean Philippe
Etienne, a member of Pelerin, one of the choirs
said: "I'm proud to sing in front of all these people.
This is a perfect example that shows that
Haitians can do good things." This sentiment was
echoed by scores of people interviewed. Many of them
felt that Vision 2000 was a huge success in that it
brought together thousands of Haitians. "I feel
touched by God to participate in this event," said
Lovely Fevrier, a 19-year old from Irvington, New
Jersey. "What is important is that we make the
transition from the old to the new year in spirituality."

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