Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Church Murders Trigger Scrutiny of Rastafarians St. Lucia Frets Effects on Tourism

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Church Murders Trigger Scrutiny of Rastafarians St. Lucia Frets Effects on Tourism

Article excerpt

CASTRIES, St. Lucia -- It was in a cave near the Soufriere Volcano in 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, Kim 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 Dec. 31.

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 grandmother.

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 percent Catholic -- who survive largely on a tourism industry that draws about 70,000 Americans a year. "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. …

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