Haiti Sanctions Voodoo As Recognized Religion

The government of Haiti has allowed voodoo as an officially sanctioned religion, but followers say it will take more than a government decree to unravel years of misunderstanding and persecution.

According to the Religion News Service, Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide recently issued an executive order calling the religion "an essential part of national identity" and inviting voodoo followers to register with the Ministry of Religious Affairs. After registering, followers will be able to legally perform weddings, baptisms and other rituals.

"In spite of our contribution to Haitian culture, we are still misunderstood and despised," Philippe Castera, a voodoo priest, told the Associated Press.

Voodoo combines elements of African religion with Catholic spirituality. Voodoo teaches belief in a supreme God, and that spirits can be summoned through gifts and offerings to bring ill will or good fortune to others.

Popular beliefs about voodoo link it with witchcraft, but adherents deny the connection.

Despite its heavy presence in Haitian and Caribbean culture, voodoo has come under attack in the country. In the 1940s, a Catholic-led campaign destroyed many voodoo temples and ritual objects.

In 1986, many voodoo practitioners were killed on the pretext that they had been accomplices to deposed dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier.