Q: Archbishop J, what is the AEC bishop’s plan to transform the Caribbean family?
The Afro-Caribbean family has a unique history. For 400 years we have had very different configurations of family structures in our region. Caribbean anthropologists like Barry Chevannes and Jean Besson have argued that the structure of the Caribbean family is culture building in the region.
While the family structures could look like the matrifocal structure of West Africa, it is fundamentally different. While it could look like some configurations of Europe, it is also fundamentally different in structure.
Our matrifocal families living in extended households is a Caribbean phenomenon which developed out of the brutality of the plantation system and slavery. It is an amazing configuration given the brutality. The other forms of family structure that have come out of China, Europe and Asia are much more intact but more recently, they have had serious challenges coming from the decline of western civilisation and the attack on the family.
In the plantation system the family was systematically undermined: deliberately separating couples and even raping women in front of their menfolk was part of our bizarre history.
Very early on the incidence of female-headed households in the Caribbean was much higher for slaves born in the region than slaves born in Africa and a social structure began emerging out of the bizarre conditions we call plantation. We are working against all the odds of history. Every success in our families needs to be celebrated as they are an amazing achievement.
With the sexual revolution in the 1960s a whole new force was unleashed on the already fragile Caribbean family. With contraceptives becoming more available, there was a separation of the two dimensions of human sexuality—the unitive and the procreative.
Every act of human sexuality was designed for both of these dimensions: the bringing together of the male and female in a permanent bond of union out of which offspring would flow (the procreative). Once these two were separated, human sexuality became genital sex, and pleasure became the point of the activity.
This uncoupling of the two dimensions has brought about a generation for whom sex is recreational and children an inconvenience until the couple is ready for it. Abortion is just another form of contraception.
In my father’s day the love song was “I will love you forever”; in my day, it was “Help me make it through the night”. Today the rapper 50 Cent has the love song ‘Amusement park’. Sex is pure recreation.
In the 1990s both cable television and internet came to the Caribbean and both impacted deeply on the Caribbean family. Before this, television was controlled by the state and shows were chosen to uphold shared values. Now the full spectrum of American television—ads and all—are part of every household.
Internet brought with it many great gifts but it also brought pornography into the home. With the digital revolution and the launch of the iPhone in 2008, pornography is now available to every child who has a phone.
Trinidad has been at the top of the Google list for consuming pornography. Children are being sexualised as early as eight years old on a regular basis. We have a fight against all odds.
A path to transformation
In our synod of 2009, the synod members moved to change a resolution about family. This was a decisive moment in our Church. The restated resolution linked the evangelisation of the family as essential to the New Evangelisation and this connection between the two, which emerged on the synod floor, took root.
We did not understand the full significance of the shift, but it felt right. Then in 2012, during the Synod on the New Evangelisation in Rome, a most amazing thing happened. The synod took the same turn as our archdiocesan synod—the evangelisation of the family was brought centre stage.
Our archdiocese was fully aligned with the Synod on the New Evangelisation in Rome as both synods saw the family playing an essential role in the New Evangelisation.
At the beginning of his pontificate, Pope John Paul II wrote 129 catechetical talks called Theology of the Body. This comprehensive work on marriage and the family has become the foundation of the Church’s teaching in this area.
Our Family Life Commission brought Christopher West to Trinidad for a weekend conference on Theology of the Body in December 2008 and 1500 people attended. It opened a whole new way of seeing family and the Church’s teaching.
We then brought in Fr Richard Kramer in August 2009 who did an intensive two-week course on Theology of the Body for 40 people. This course went through the writings of St John Paul II and explored the themes with implications for us in the Caribbean.
Pope Benedict resigned in 2013 and Pope Francis was elected. Pope Francis called two synods on the family: an extraordinary one in 2014 followed by an ordinary one in 2015.
These two synods laid the foundation for evangelisation of the family in the light of the contemporary challenges. It also looked deeply on pastoral care for the family and the question of divorce and remarriage. The result was the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia which is a profound reflection on pastoral care and evangelisation of the family.
The AEC Bishops seeing the challenges we have been facing with evangelising the family have dedicated the last three AEC youth gatherings to this theme.
In St Lucia (2012) we brought in an expert from the US to give the keynote addresses on Theology of the Body. In Antigua (2015) we got the youth to prepare and present a chapter of Pope Pius XI’s Casti Connubii, which is on Catholic values and teachings on family.
Bishops presented the keynote addresses and led sessions.
In this year’s AEC Youth Assembly, the method was similar. Participants were given a chapter of Amoris Laetitia to present to the whole assembly. Fr Matthew Ragbir, who studied marriage and the family at the John Paul II Institute, Rome, did the main presentations. The last three AEC Youth assemblies were designed to form our youth to live God’s intention for the family in the Caribbean.
We are still a long way off from transforming the Caribbean family but we have a very good start. The first part of the journey is recovering the truth of God’s intention for the family.
Second is giving our young people the skills to live the truth and to prepare for their vocation of marriage, priesthood, religious life or single life. The third is to prepare ministers to accompany all our people—young and old—towards living family as disciples of Christ in our Caribbean region.
Each of us has an obligation to read, reflect on and study the Church’s teaching on family. I propose that you begin with Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia, Chapter 4.
Key Message: There are many powerful forces that were unleashed on the Caribbean family. We need to understand them, address them and work for the transformation of the Caribbean family.
Action Step: Read Amoris Laetitia Chapter 4. Reflect on your attitude to love and family, pray for conversion of heart.
Scripture Reading: Rom 12:1–2.