President of the Antilles Episcopal Conference (AEC) Bishop Gabriel Malzaire of Roseau expressed sincere gratitude to Pope Francis for taking the lead in seeking to create, through the publication of Laudato Si, a consciousness and appreciation of the earth as our common home and inspiring a sense of responsibility to care for it.
The constant challenge of relief and reconstruction after natural disasters, the bishop said, has also inspired the AEC bishops to establish a Disaster Fund to assist in the response to immediate post-disaster needs in the region.
In his opening address at the ad limina apostolorum visit last Monday, Bishop Malzaire identified some significant challenges affecting the AEC territories.
He observed that most of the small island states exist at the mercy of the hurricane season (June to November) with the 2017 mega hurricanes (Irma and Maria) leaving much destruction. He mentioned that the AEC bishops have been working with other Christian churches and civic groups to get the international financial institutions to deal with the “debt trap” which some of the countries with external debt experience because of these disasters.
Bishop Malzaire stated one significant problem faced in all dioceses is the escalation of violent crimes, partly caused by the availability and abuse of illegal drugs, guns, unemployment and social problems of all kinds.
These he linked to “a complexity of causes” including lack of proper human formation and guidance from the family. He added, “Needless to say, the most affected are the youth. The struggle of sustaining the youth with a religious/ spiritual ethos is real.”
Another concern is a growing phenomenon of refugees and social issues affecting larger territories including Dominica and Trinidad.
Catholic education which has been the backbone of education in the region and has enjoyed high esteem among Catholics and non-Catholics alike, has become a real challenge in more recent years, the bishop said.
In 2011, the AEC Bishops published a Pastoral Letter entitled Catholic education in the Territories of the Antilles Episcopal Conference which deals with the philosophy of Catholic education and provides guidelines for Catholic educators towards an integral understanding of their role.
Bishop Malzaire highlighted that at their annual plenary meeting in 2016, the AEC bishops adopted as its pastoral plan for the period 2016–2021 four priorities for mission and evangelisation: the Word of God that animates all pastoral life; the Eucharist as communion; the evangelisation of the family; and the evangelisaton of human structures.
Subsequent pastoral letters were adopted to explore these priorities namely, the Biblical Animation of All Pastoral Life (ABP); Stewardship and the Revitalisation of Parish Life in the Caribbean; Towards a Framework for Integrating Pastoral Life; New Ways of being Church in a Digital Milieu and New Ways of being Church in a Digital Milieu.
In concluding, Bishop Malzaire invited Pope Francis to visit the region, “the oldest Church in the New World”, a gesture he was confident will benefit the faith of the people. KJ