A Roman Catholic mass (left) and Voodoo ceremony (right) in contemporary Haiti.

Haiti has been largely a Christian country for several hundred years after the Spanish and then the French colonized the Caribbean island nation before it became a sovereign state. Roman Catholicism is by far the largest Christian denomination in the country. It is estimated that Roman Catholics make up 80% of the Haitian population. There is also the influence of West African religious practices that were brought by slaves and some of the native American practices, which are similar to Cuban Santeria. Haitian society is somewhat of a multi-religious community, and the government does not interfere with these organizations.

Roman Catholic Christianity and Catholic-Voodoo syncretism

Roman Catholics in Haiti constitute approximately 80% of the entire national population. The religion is heavily modified and mixed with traditional voodoo which is made up of West African religious traditions and some indigenous beliefs. The impact of the French in their new colonies is directly linked to the prevalence of Catholicism in Haiti as it was their colonial master. The constitution had Catholic as the official state religion until 1986, when it was removed. Religious freedom in the country has allowed other religions to flourish. The Catholic Church has had a difficult relationship with Voodoo practice during its lifetime in the country. At the end of the American occupation in the 1930s, the small number of priests available catered mainly to the urban elite where voodoo is rare. Catholic priests then launched campaigns aimed at destroying the religion. Later, certain elements of popular religion entered the liturgy. The constitution put in place in 1987 authorized the practice of faith. The church therefore allowed particular aspects of these indigenous religions. The pope’s impact and power was evident in 1983 when he criticized the government during his visit. The leader, Mr. Jean Claude Duvalier, was deposed about three years later. To ensure efficient administration of ecclesiastical affairs, Haiti is divided into ten dioceses and two archdioceses.

Protestant Christianity

Protestants make up about 16% of the total Haitian population, and the number of adherents to the faith has grown significantly in recent years. Protestants are primarily Baptists, Pentecostals, Adventists, and other smaller groups. Unlike Catholics, they completely denounce the practice of voodoo as a vice. Other statistics to underline that Protestants represent more than a third of the country’s population.

Islam

Muslims on the island are estimated at 3,000, which is 0.04% of Haiti’s population. Muslim leaders say the number is closer to 5,000 and many are missing in national censuses. The country’s Muslims trace their origins to the slave trade, where most of them first entered the country as slaves. When slavery ended, they were left in the country as free citizens.

Judaism

There are no official records indicating the number of Haitian Jews among the Haitian population. They began to migrate to the country during the early days of European colonial power. Significant numbers also came to the country during the 1940s, fleeing persecution from Hitler’s Nazi Germany.

Impact of religion in Haiti

The overwhelming majority of Haitian citizens identify with at least one kind of religious group. They believe in the presence of a greater power that determines the fate of all men. To seek the blessings of this power, they offer sacrifices, participate in religious festivals, and perform ceremonies, among other activities.

Religious beliefs in Haiti


Rank belief system Share of Population in Haiti
1 Roman Catholic Christianity (including Catholic-Voodoo syncretism) 80%
2 Protestant Christianity 16%
3 Atheism or agnosticism 1%
Baha’i Faith, Islam, Judaism, Eastern Religions and Other Beliefs 3%