The Catholic bishops of Haiti have announced a year of prayer and adoration for the country, which continues to face heightened tensions and instability amid calls for President Jovenel Moise to resign.
“The misery has become so sharp and the insecurity so destabilising that the tree of hope has been torn from the ground,” the Haitian Bishops’ Conference said, according to Vatican News.
For months, protests have rocked the impoverished nation, following an official audit report finding billions of dollars missing from a government programme intended to benefit low-income Haitian residents.
The 600-page report, released on May 31, implicates the three most recent presidential administrations in serious financial corruption.
The controversy centres around the PetroCaribe programme, created by Venezuela before its economic collapse, through which it lent oil to nearby countries, with payments deferred for up to 25 years.
Haiti, the poorest country in the region, joined the programme in 2006. The money it saved was intended to be invested in infrastructure, social programmes and health care projects.
However, the audit report found $2bn (€1.8bn) missing, leaving taxpayers indebted to Venezuela and lacking the benefits that had been promised to them through the programme, according to Time magazine.
The report suggests that Moise embezzled funds before he took office in 2017, including $1m (€900,000) received for the paving of a rural road that was paid for twice, the Miami Herald reports.
Moise has denied wrongdoing and says he will not resign from office before his term expires in three years.
Protests have turned violent, with schools and businesses shutting down, and roadblocks impairing the distribution of food, water and medication.
Faced with this grim reality, the bishops of Haiti said that the upcoming year – which will last until the Feast of Pentecost on May 31, 2020 – will be dedicated to praying for hope and an eradication corruption in the country.
“Hasn’t the Lord always listened to the voice of his people crying for him? Are we not his people, his flock?” they said in a communique, Vatican News reported.
Each diocese will organise specific events as part of the year of prayer and adoration.
The bishops called on the people of Haiti to pray, individually and in prayer groups over the coming year, seeking “to consecrate and restore to God the destiny of our country and our people”.