In late April, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a former Catholic priest, declared voodoo an officially recognized religion. It's a move that some Christians in the chronically poor nation of 7.5 million people say is an ominous sign.

"The government said they are going to turn the country entirely to voodoo. The Christians say we are going to turn the country totally to the Lord Jesus Christ," said Jean Berthony Paul, founder of Mission Evangelique du Nord D'Haiti.

The decision means, among other things, that voodoo marriage ceremonies will have equal legal standing. Voodoo venerates a mixture of African gods and Catholic saints and practices spiritism. Haiti ended its recognition of Roman Catholicism as the state church in 1987.

Pastors and missionaries in St. Marc organized a rally on August 14, a key voodoo holiday, to counter the witchcraft they say voodoo involves. Missionaries have also circulated unconfirmed reports that a child was abducted from the town hospital to be made a voodoo sacrifice.

They fear Aristide is planning to renew a 200-year-old national "pact with the devil" on January 1, 2004. Many Haitians credit the country's independence to voodoo.

Evangelicals have been growing by 3 percent a year, nearly double the population growth rate. Officially, 80 percent of the population is Catholic and 16 percent is Protestant. But many practice voodoo along with their Christian observance.

"There have been some difficulties, some confrontations that could, perhaps, affect the church from this point on," said a pastor from the Dominican Republic who makes frequent visits to Haiti. "But the servants of God have not been hindered."

Related Elsewhere:

Compass Direct has a photo of Paul.

Related recent news stories and backgrounders include:

Magic kingdom | In New Orleans, communing with the other world can put you under the city's spell—The Washington Post Magazine (Sept. 21, 2003)
Christians want to rid Haiti of Voodoo—Mission Network News (Sept. 11, 2003)
Vodou asserts its claim to respect | Reenactment hails its part in revolution—The Miami Herald (Aug. 31, 2003)
Boukman, Aristide, Voodoo, and the church in Haiti—World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty E-mail Conference (Aug. 26, 2003)
Voodoo losing power among Haitian poor—Associated Press (Aug. 25, 2003)
Disturbing revelations of human sacrifice—New York Sun (Aug. 18, 2003)
Christians combat voodoo with prayer—Mission Network News (Aug. 18, 2003)
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African religions attracting Americans | Voodoo, Santeria and other religions with African roots draw U.S. followers—Associated Press (Aug. 9, 2003)
Weblog: Voodoo Weddings, Funerals to Be Official | Los Angeles Times examines Haiti's now-official Voodoo —Christianity Today (Aug. 5, 2003)
Voodoo's spell over Haiti | But recognition of voodoo does not please everyone—BBC (Aug. 4, 2003)
Haitians hail the 'President of voodoo' | By legitimizing the religion, Aristide has energized believers and his popular support—Los Angeles Times (Aug. 3, 2003)
Practicing Voodoo | Haitians say ancient religion is often misunderstood—The Ledger (Lakeland, Fla.) (May 18, 2003)
Missionaries in Haiti work under a cloud of growing suspicion—Mission Network News (May 16, 2003)
Haiti recognizes voodoo; believers respond with prayer—Mission Network News (May 9, 2003)
Vodou's veil | In much the same fashion vodou was born in Haiti among African slaves, it is practiced here in South Florida: Shrouded in a veil of secrecy in hidden-away temples that double as private homes, and storefront religious stores known as botanicas—The Miami Herald (May 3, 2003)
Haiti makes voodoo official | Voodoo has been practiced in Haiti since the late 18th Century, but only now has it been recognized as a religion on a par with others worshipped in the country—BBC (Apr. 30, 2003)
Thousands turn out at Haitian conference to ward off forces of evil | Some 90,000 Haitians crowded under canopies and parasols Sunday, praying for miracles to cure the physical, economic and political ills that are bedeviling their nation—Associated Press (Apr. 28, 2003)
Haiti officially sanctions Voodoo—Associated Press (Apr. 10, 2003)
Voodoo a legitimate religion, anthropologist says—National Geographic News (Oct. 21, 2002)

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