We, the Roman Catholic Bishops of the Antilles Episcopal Conference (AEC) have just concluded our 64th Annual Plenary Meeting. For the first time, in the context of our regional response to COVID 19, we met on a Zoom platform. Even in that context, we were deeply conscious of the challenges which we face as Caribbean people because of the pandemic. You, God’s Caribbean people, at home and in the diaspora, have been hard hit – by the loss of jobs especially in the collapse of the tourist industry, by the lockdowns which have confined us to our homes to contain the virus and by the closure of our churches as any gathering brought with it possible dangers for those who gathered. We have always spoken with confidence that “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am in their midst”.
How is the Lord in our midst when we are gathered, physically distancing and sanitized in a time of COVID 19? We are deeply conscious of the tremendous impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on all of us. Many have been stripped emotionally and spiritually, thus exposing our poverty, weaknesses, and vulnerability. We have faced many disasters over the years. Every hurricane season sees us in a cycle of anxiety, disaster and resilience. We know that our response must always lie in a realistic assessment of what has happened, our mutual support for one another in the creative rebuilding of our infrastructure and our social relations. Let us all stand convinced in faith, hope and love that this present regional and global crisis must not defeat us but become a moment of grace calling us to discern new ways of being and living Church today. Already, we have witnessed examples of this “new way” of being Church in the lives of many parents, families, and faith communities.
We urge our Caribbean political and social leaders to stand together at this moment. The temptation to run individually and beggarly to seek assistance from outside will be great. Our principal benefactors have themselves been hard-hit by COVID 19. Now is not the time to only seek bandages for wounds. Now is the time to reach deep within our collective Caribbean consciousness and forge that unity which can see us rising to our greatest challenges together. This is particularly true in the area of food security. We can and must feed ourselves. We endorse the wise counsel of Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados when she called for new global initiative to correct the injustices at the heart of the world systems. By including Pope Francis in such an initiative, she has challenged Caribbean religious leaders as to the role we play in the meeting the problems of Caribbean society. May the Spirit guide us to see our role in the years to come. At our meeting we have identified four pastoral priorities for the Church.
They are pastoral care for the domestic Church, the unemployed especially those made jobless by COVID, youth and young adults, and the care for the earth. We hope to execute these four priorities in the spirit of Pope Francis who writes, “An authentic option for the poor and the abandoned, while motivating us to liberate them from material poverty and to defend their rights, also involves inviting them to a friendship with the Lord that can elevate and dignify them” (Pope Francis, Querida Amazonia, #63). As we celebrate the fifth anniversary of Laudato Si’ we are deeply conscious that God will judge our moral and spiritual leadership by our care for the weak and vulnerable, our sense of responsibility for our Common Home and by our effective unity in the face of the disasters which will come upon us from time to time We wish to acknowledge and recognize that social media continues to be a key medium in transmitting messages of hope during this current crisis.
It has assisted families, faith communities, businesses, and friends to nurture relationships and build communities. As we advocated on our Pastoral Letter New Ways of Being Church in a Digital Milieu, we hope that the digital milieu will be used to build collaboration, community, and communion. We must be particularly careful to find ways to include those who are outside these networks to share in their benefits. And so, beloved people of God in the Caribbean, these are moments of trial, not of despair. God has been with us through it all. God is our future. We the bishops of the Antilles are journeying with you into this new epoch of the Church and the world. As we journey, we entrust the mission of the Church to the maternal care of Mary, Mother of the Church. May her intercession empower and enrich the Church to become more and more a beckon of hope as is her Son, Jesus Christ.
Bishop Gabriel Malzaire, Bishop of Roseau, President
Archbishop Charles Jason Gordon, Archbishop of Port of Spain, Vice President
Bishop Gerard County, Bishop of Kingstown
Archbishop Patrick Pinder, Archbishop of Nassau
Archbishop Robert Rivas, Archbishop of Castries
Archbishop David Macaire, Archbishop of St Pierre & Fort-de-France
Archbishop Kenneth Richards, Archbishop of Kingston
Archbishop Emeritus Charles Dufour, Apostolic Administrator of Mandeville
Bishop Emmanuel Lafont, Bishop of Cayenne
Bishop Francis Alleyne, Bishop of Georgetown
Bishop Luis Secco, Bishop of Willemstad
Bishop Jean-Yves Riocreux, Bishop of Guadeloupe
Bishop Burchell Mc Pherson, Bishop of Montego Bay
Bishop Wieslaw Spiewak, Bishop of Hamilton
Bishop Karel Choennie, Bishop of Paramaribo
Bishop Robert Llanos, Apostolic Bishop of St. John’s-Basseterre
Bishop Lawrence Nicasio, Bishop of Belize City and Belmopan
Bishop Clyde Martin Harvey, Bishop of St. George’s in Grenada
Published: Monday 18th May, 2020