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Thousands Gather To Say Goodbye To Popular Haitian Priest

CaribWorldNews, MIAMI, FL, Mon. June 8, 2009: Mourners wearing buttons and T-shirts with the words `The Struggle Continues` filled a Miami church to overflow Saturday to bid adieu to popular Haitian priest and activist,  Father Gerard Jean-Juste.

Father Jean-Juste, aka Gerry, to many, was remembered at funeral services Saturday at the Notre Dame D`Haiti Catholic Church in South Florida a week after he died from a stroke and respiratory problems at a Miami-area hospital.

Some 3,000 people gathered at the church to celebrate the life of the 62-year-old who founded the Haitian Refugee Center in Miami in the late 1970s.

He also was remembered for speaking out against a coup that forced then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide from office. He gained renown throughout Haiti and the Haitian diaspora as a determined opponent of the interim government of Prime Minister Gérard Latortue. Gérard Latortue`s de facto rule came about after the violent overthrow of the government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide by anti-government rebels in 2004.

In November 2004, Father Jean-Juste was released from prison by police after seven weeks in incarceration, following outcries of opposition to his incarceration. On July 21, 2005, following a return a trip from Miami, Florida Jean-Juste was arrested by police in Haiti in connection with the abduction and murder in Haiti of journalist Jacques Roche. On July 28, 2005, Amnesty International named Jean-Juste a `prisoner of conscience.`

He also emerged as a potential candidate for the Fanmi Lavalas party in the 2006 General elections in Haiti which, after several postponements, took place on February 7, 2006.

In late December 2005, a U.S. medical doctor confirmed a colleague`s initial diagnosis that Jean-Juste had cancer. After examining the priest and analyzing a blood sample drawn from him, prominent Harvard University physician and Aristide supporter Paul Farmer said Jean-Juste had chronic lymphocytic leukemia. On January 29, 2006, Father Jean-Juste, after having been granted temporary release by the interim Haitian government, arrived in Miami to receive medical treatment for his leukemia.

On September 11, 2006, the University of San Francisco conferred an Honorary Doctorate degree on Fr. Jean-Juste to recognize his human rights and social justice work on behalf of Haiti`s poor.

On November 26, 2007, the Court of Appeals of Port-au-Prince heard Jean-Juste`s challenges to the remaining charges against him- weapons possession and criminal conspiracy. Jean-Juste declared that `my rosary is my only weapon.`

The prosecutor even conceded that there was no evidence in the file against Jean-Juste, and asked that the charges be dismissed.

Father Jean-Juste will be buried next to his mother in Cavaillon, Haiti, where he was born.