Attack on Priest Called Haiti Catalyst
Born in poverty in the southern town of Port-Salut, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was brought to the capital as a boy to study at the Jean Bosco School, a church-sponsored academy run by the order of Silesian priests. He studied for the priesthood at the local seminary and later went to Jerusalem, where he studied biblical scriptures for nearly two years.
Returning to Port-au-Prince, Father Aristide began his priesthood at the Jean Bosco Church where he had been schooled, and quickly made his presence felt through his work with orphans and poor street children. Said a Defiant Mass
He first came to greater public attention in 1985, when at a startling, defiant Mass he called for change in the country and bluntly criticized the dictatorship of the President-for-Life, Jean-Claude Duvalier.
That Mass was said at a time when cowed church leaders did not outspokenly challenge the regime. There had already been more than two decades of harsh repression, from which the church was not immune. In 1964, for example, Francois Duvalier, the founder of the dictatorship, expelled the Jesuits from Haiti because he regarded them and their ideas as threats.
The Mass said by Father Aristide in 1985 drew the attention of the foreign press and is often cited as one of the sparks that set off the popular uprising of strikes and demonstrations that would lead, one year later, to the ouster of Jean-Claude Duvalier.
It also earned Father Aristide the lasting enmity of the country's military and police leadership, as well as that of the feared paramilitary thugs known as the Tontons Macoute. 'The Only Real Leader'
''He is the only real leader who has been thrust forward by the coup against the Duvaliers,'' said a longtime observer of Haitian affairs. ''He has kept the same line throughout, participating in marches and working with peasants throughout the country.''
''He is anti-Government, anti-military and anti-imperialist,'' said a Western diplomat, who also said he is ''very popular with the people here.''
Since the anti-Duvalier Mass, according to the most widely cited tally, at least six attempts have been made on the life of Father Aristide. Each failed through a combination of vigilance, an informal intelligence network warning him of planned attacks and the loyalty of his followers.
On Sunday, Sept. 11, at a time when a full congregation of worshippers was enraptured by his Mass, the Jean Bosco Church itself became the target of brazen attackers.