Pubdate: Sun, 07 Jan 2001
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2000 Los Angeles Times
Contact:  Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053
Fax: (213) 237-7679
Author: Mark Fineman, Times Staff Writer


Caribbean: The Recent Assault At A Church In St. Lucia Raises Concerns
About Rastafarianism's Radical Youths.

CASTRIES, St. Lucia--It was in a cave near the Soufriere volcano at
the heart of this Caribbean island that Kim John says he first heard
the voice of God.

It was Haile Selassie, the late Ethiopian emperor worshiped by
Rastafarians worldwide, who spoke to him sometime last year, John told
police inspectors last week. The voice anointed the 20-year-old as
"the chosen one" and commanded him to free his people from bondage and
destroy the "system of Babylon," John said.

And so it was that, according to witnesses and investigators, John and
at least one accomplice burst into the Roman Catholic cathedral--this
island's icon of unity and culture for 101 years--just after dawn last

Clad in flowing robes and armed with clubs, flaming torches and
gasoline cans, the attackers charged up the aisle, randomly dousing
and torching a dozen parishioners--a carpenter, a clerk, a retiree, a

One attacker set fire to the priest and the altar. Another bludgeoned
to death Sister Theresa Egan, an Irish nun who had worked on the
island for 42 years, because "he saw the devil" in her pale blue eyes,
police Inspector Gregory Montoute later explained.

The carnage left behind what Prime Minister Kenny Anthony called
"lacerations of the spirit that deeply scar the identity of our nation
and a common cross that we all must bear."

"This atrocious act has profoundly affected us at home and abroad,"
Anthony conceded in an address to his nation's 150,000 people--about
80% Catholic--who survive largely on a tourism industry that draws
about 70,000 Americans a year to the island's extraordinary beauty.
"At home, the sense of trauma is tangible and the horror will take
some time to fade. Abroad, our image as a civilized, peace-loving and
tolerant nation has been severely harmed."

But the impact of the attack by self-proclaimed Rastafarians at the
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception here goes far beyond St.
Lucia's traditionally peaceful shores. It comes at a time when
Rastafarians throughout the Caribbean are becoming a more vocal,
visible and, some rival religious leaders say, potentially violent
political and social force.

Bolstered by thousands of new believers from a rebellious younger
generation plagued by poverty and joblessness on small island states,
Rastafarians have begun to contest elections, protest policies that
have discriminated against them for decades and lobby for
decriminalizing marijuana, which adherents smoke as a religious sacrament.

The religion was founded in the 1930s by the descendants of African
slaves in Jamaica. Its believers worship Haile Selassie as the living
god of the black race. They follow as their sacred text parts of the
Bible, except where they believe changes were made by "Babylon," which
they equate with a white power structure that includes the pope and
the Vatican.

As Anthony put it in an interview here Friday, the attack targeted
just one major symbol of Babylon; it could easily have targeted the

"The question is, if the church is the first victim, who is the next."
Anthony said. "The Caribbean is going through a very, very, very
difficult period. We are all troubled, troubled because we are
witnessing the increasing marginalization of young males at an
uncontrollable rate. We are troubled by rising poverty and crime. And
we are troubled by an increasingly unfriendly global [economic]

Against that backdrop, he added, Rastafarianism is reinventing itself
among disenfranchised youth. "What is apparent is that there is an
unholy alliance of this religious theology laced with this rebellion
and to some extent complicated by the drugs. It is a real lethal
combination. And what has happened here can find similar
manifestations in each and every island of the Caribbean."

For much of this young generation, the religion is also grounded in
music. The lyrics have evolved from reggae Rasta star Bob Marley's
"One Love" and his metaphoric references to "bombing the church" to
the incendiary incantations of more recent Jamaican Rastafarian stars
such as Sizzler.

"In a lot of Sizzler's songs you hear things like 'Burn down Babylon;
Burn down the Vatican; Burn down the pope,' " said Peter "Ras Ipa"
Isaac, who heads St. Lucia's Imperial Ethiopian World Federation and
is among the Rastafarians' old guard here--a group that is deeply
concerned about the religion's younger members and its future direction.

"It's not literal," Isaac said. "But in the young minds, like these
two guys perhaps, maybe they are influenced in a literal way by these

Added Msgr. Theophilius Joseph, administrator of the cathedral:
"There's a new era--a new kind of protest song that is more violent
than the Bob Marley era. It's a very violent message that no doubt is
influenced by the American negative rap."

St. Lucia's Rastafarian leaders condemned the church attack and
disowned the two men in custody. Ras Wisely, chairman of the island's
National Council of the Advancement of Rastafarians, read a televised
statement expressing sympathy for the victims and castigating those

"Rastafarians are not really militant in any way," explained Isaac,
who co-founded the island's Rastafarian council in 1997 and sells
Haile Selassie bumper stickers and Bob Marley T-shirts at Castries'
cruise-ship mall.

"Rastafarians have been discriminated against for so long," he added.
"Young boys are shot and killed by police chasing them for smoking a
spliff [marijuana cigarette]. Their dreadlocks are chopped off in
prison. They can't get jobs because employers fear them. We have to
become a political force."

Rastafarian political blocs have formed in Jamaica and St. Vincent and
the Grenadines, Caribbean neighbors that are among the region's
biggest marijuana producers and exporters. Others are forming
elsewhere in the region, causing growing consternation among the
political and religious leaders of Caribbean cultures that are
traditionally Christian and conservative.

As last Sunday's attack resonates through the region, Rastafarian
leaders worry that it may cause a backlash against their religion.
Young adherents here have expressed fears of police crackdowns and
further discrimination. Non-Rastafarians privately have voiced their
own fears that the violence on the last day of the second millennium
was not, as police and commentators say, an apparently isolated attack
by deranged individuals.

"We certainly have no evidence these guys were connected with a sect
or a cult, or that there's someone out there planning something
similar," said St. Lucia Police Supt. Albert Fregis. "But certainly
one cannot rule out the possibility that something like this can
happen again."

Added Inspector Montoute, who has interrogated John and 34-year-old
alleged accomplice Francis Phillip daily since the attack: "Kim John
said that there are two of them now but there are new ones coming up.
What he meant by that, we don't know. But there is a whole team
investigating this."

John was captured by parishioners inside the cathedral and held for
police. Phillip was arrested in a banana grove near this capital the
next day. Police say both men have confessed and were arraigned Friday
on charges of murder and arson, pleading guilty to arson and putting
off their plea to murder charges until trial.

But it is the attitude of the two men, described by police and
government officials here as "utterly without compunction or remorse,"
that has thrust this nation into a painful period of self-assessment
after a crime the prime minister told the nation was "a wake-up call
that among our youth are those . . . whose spirituality has
degenerated to satanic debasement."

Joseph, the cathedral administrator, set the tone of national
self-criticism at a midnight Mass he celebrated the same day of the
attack, after work crews had scrubbed away the bloodstains and burn
marks. He titled his remarks: "St. Lucia, where are we going." In an
interview after the prime minister's speech, though, Joseph said:
"We've had a lot of wake-up calls already. All these calls, and we're
still asleep."

In fact, during the past several months, this once-serene island has
seen a series of rapes, murders and robberies, a pattern repeated
throughout the eastern Caribbean amid increased drug trafficking and
unemployment. Those ills are largely the result of a banana industry
that is dying, locals argue, after America successfully fought to
eliminate preferential European trade tariffs that had supported it.

St. Lucia has lost half of its banana-export income in the past 10
years. Today, nearly a fifth of its work force is unemployed--in a
country that had the highest birthrate in the Western Hemisphere 16
years ago, mostly attributed to teenage mothers.

"This has made the younger generation more rebellious against all of
society's institutions," said Joseph, who vowed to redouble the
Catholic Church's efforts to bridge the yawning gap between the
island's Christian communities, as well as between them and the

"My main thing now is to try to reach out--especially to the young
Rastafarian, the marginalized youth who have been placed in what we
call ghettos. I'll try to teach them that Jah--their God--is love.
What I would like to see come out of this is the churches all coming
together, working together as one force to bring redemption to a lot
of the problems we have."

Asked whether the outrage, the sorrow and the pain after the attack
hasn't made that task all the more difficult, Joseph shook his head.

"No church has gloated over what has happened to us here," he said,
"because now they all realize it can happen to them too."
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