Q&A – Jamaican Mission

| October 8, 2015 | 0 Comments
Maggotty, Jamaica. Courtesy Eric Simon/Center for Mission

Maggotty, Jamaica. Courtesy Eric Simon/Center for Mission

Passionist Father Jim Price is an American priest serving in south-central Jamaica in the impoverished rural mission Diocese of Mandeville. He coordinates both the Pontifical Mission Societies and the evangelization office for the diocese, where Catholics make up less than 2 percent of the population. “The Catholic population is small,” Father Price explained, “but our outreach is vast regarding education, medical aid and various forms of assistance.”

As the Center for Mission in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis organizes a January visit to the Mandeville diocese to experience a mission diocese that receives support from the Pontifical Mission Societies, The Catholic Spirit interviewed Father Price via email about the Jamaica diocese, about ministry there and how the diocese is aided by donations on World Mission Sunday.

Q: Briefly, how did you come to serve in Jamaica? What was the attraction for you?

A: Jamaica has been a major part of our life as a Passionist Community since 1955.

I first came to Jamaica in 1991 when I was asked to come for my summer assignment as a seminarian. Beginning in the late 1990s I began coming to Jamaica at least once a year for either a preaching assignment in our retreat house or by accompanying a group from the USA for a week of outreach work. I always liked coming to Jamaica and seeing what our community was doing to contribute to the local Church. I became an official member of the Passionist Community of Jamaica in July of 2014.

My main attraction to coming to Jamaica was the fact that we as a religious community have various expressions of our Passionist ministries here that allow us to have a central focus in a small geographical area. The present Bishop of Mandeville is a Passionist. There are Passionist sisters here, (for 30 years) one Passionist brother, three priests, and one of whom is our lone native Jamaican Passionist, Father Michael Rowe. We also have a group of post-college age men and women who make up our Passionist Volunteers International. The PVIs are a Passionist-sponsored and fully funded program for young people who come and work in the mission for one year. So, it was the Passionist community expression of mission that was my biggest draw to come to Jamaica.

Q: How would you describe the Church in the Diocese of Mandeville in a few sentences?

A: The Diocese of Mandeville is a young, very small, mission diocese that has been re-focusing its energies on evangelization, vocations, outreach to youth and inviting the people to a better sense of ownership, meaning that although most of its priests and religious are not native Jamaicans, the goal is to build up a Church that reflects the face of Jamaica.

Q: What makes Mandeville a mission diocese?

A: The Diocese of Mandeville can only generate approximately five percent of its income. Therefore we rely heavily on funds and assistance from outside of Jamaica to help sustain what we do. What makes us a mission diocese more than the funding is the fact that the Catholic population is small, but our outreach is vast regarding education, medical aid and various forms of assistance.

Q: What would surprise Americans to know about Catholics in Jamaica?

A: What I have observed is that Jamaican Catholics feel that they have to defend themselves since Catholicism is a tiny minority in the country and the perception of the Church is not always positive.

I think many Americans would be very surprised to see some of the very overt expressions of a lack of respect for the Catholic Church in Jamaica regarding belief and the depth of our teaching. Everyone knows that the Catholic Church does incredible outreach (distribution of food, housing, education, medical clinics), but many non-Catholics do not look on us as a religion, but more of a social agency or a “hand out” Church.

Q: What are the greatest needs you see? What are your biggest challenges?

A: The needs are endless. And when we begin to help and reach out, the challenges that come with the requests for assistance pile up.
The needs generally begin with the material like food, clothing, shelter and funds for education, and the everyday necessities of life.  But there is also need for interior support for families and children.

Some of the biggest challenges are dealing with what Pope Francis mentioned in his recent address to Congress, namely helping people to find alternatives to the cycle of poverty that is so pervasive with many of our rural people.

Q: How does the diocese benefit from the work of the Pontifical Mission Society/Propagation of the Faith?

A: The Diocese benefits greatly from the PMS especially through the Missionary Childhood Association assistance for programs for our children, (lunch program in Basic schools [ages 2-6], books, shoes and school supplies program, after school program, youth retreats), and specifically through the Propagation of the Faith: our Biblical animation program, teaching people how to pray the Sunday scriptures; the building of churches in deep rural areas, and training people to lead in their parish communities.

Q: Why are so few Jamaicans Catholic? Does that lack of a faith relationship present barriers to the Church’s work?

A: This is a question that demands a lot of reflection. Part of it is historical. Jamaica was an English colony for many years, and unlike the countries in the Caribbean that have a heavily Spanish background, Jamaica was influenced by the Anglican Church. Migration is also a part of the reason since so many Jamaicans have left for the UK, Canada and the USA.

The deeper reason is intertwined with some of the more anti-Catholic elements of some of the fundamentalist “pop up” churches in Jamaica that have a deep suspicion of Catholicism, largely based on misperceptions and a lack of understanding of the Church.

The majority of Jamaica’s Catholics are in the Archdiocese of Kingston. The fewest Catholics are in the Diocese of Mandeville, a mostly rural diocese.

The challenge this poses for me personally is to never take for granted that people know what it means to be Catholic or what the Church believes. It also challenges to me not to measure the “success” of the Church by numbers.

The two parish churches I administer have 30 people at Mass on Sunday. This can make you defensive or serve as an invitation to find a more effective and engaging form of evangelization that focuses on the notion of missionary discipleship that Pope Francis calls us to in the Joy of the Gospel.

Q: What does the partnership with the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis mean to the people of the Diocese of Mandeville?

A: To me it means that other people care so much that their concern goes beyond pity to saying, “We can actually do something?”

To me it means that others who do no even know us want to share themselves in a way that reflects action, solidarity, and looking beyond our own personal needs and truly making a sacrifice that reflects the love of Christ.

It also means that we have an opportunity for a new relationship to develop, a relationship that has as its goal a shared mission of people from the same faith.

Q: When the delegation from Minnesota visits in January, what do Catholics in Jamaica want to be the take-away for the Minnesotans about the Catholic culture and the Church in Jamaica?

A: Stories of snow, ice, and long winters do not exist in Jamaica. but natural beauty, mountains, the Caribbean Sea, the landscapes and the people, its greatest resource, do exist, and the people from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis can take away this great gift with them.

The culture of Jamaica is complicated but rich. The culture of marriage, the relationship between men and women, the lack of male support systems that challenge and invite men to be more present to their families, are one aspect, yet the deep closeness of families and the role of the mother is a crucial part of Jamaican life.

Yet, there is another reality: violence against women and children, and a lack of alternatives to grinding poverty and unemployment are part of the complicated aspect of Jamaican culture. The natural beauty of Jamaica that is a great expression of their culture is undergoing unwelcome changes, namely a lack of resources to adequate water and a scorched and dry earth as a result of terrible long droughts that become worse every year.

The richness of Jamaican culture is something that needs to be experienced. Their love for stories and music, the pride they take in the beauty of their land — “our common home” — and the Caribbean sea, the ties of family, and even though there is a lack of understanding of what Catholicism is about, the very comfortable mention of God and during prayers at public events shows a great sense of the presence of God in our midst.

Whenever I visit the hospital each week and make my stop to all the patients beds, (everyone are on common wards) and I ask how a person is, the response is always the same, “I am blessed.” Even in the midst of suffering and pain, illness and uncertainty, Jamaicans will tell you that they feel blessed.

I know that the group from St. Paul will bless our people by their mere presence, and I pray that they too will feel the blessing of the Jamaican people as they begin this new relationship, friendship and expression of solidarity.

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Category: World Mission Sunday