Pentecost (B)
May 19, 2018
Youth Mass in Siparia
May 19, 2018

A poor Mary and development

St Lawrence was a young cleric who held a position of great trust, caring for the goods of the Church and distributing its alms among the poor. Source: catholicculture.org

I now turn to reflect a little on Mary, the poor woman of Nazareth. Pope Francis speaks of “a Church of the poor for the poor”. Saints tend to speak like that. The pope has a long history of antecedents in Christian history beginning with Jesus, the apostles, the deacon Lawrence (third century) whose “wealth” was the “the poor, the crippled, the lame” and who was martyred for that understanding of wealth. Many more will follow them for Jesus says, “the poor you will have with you always” (Mt 26:11).

I cannot say I have reached the point of personal conviction to say “a Church of the poor for the poor”. I think of the late Vatican financier Archbishop Paul Marcinkus who is reputed to have said: “You can’t run the Church on Hail Marys” and our very own Archbishop Pantin who once said: “Love of money may be the root of all evil but there is precious little we can do without it”.

Even Pope Francis had to accept the generosity of the multinationals in Rome for the canonisation of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II for the Vatican did not have enough money to stage it. And these multinationals should have, since they reaped millions of euros from the hundreds of thousands gathered for the event.

Economists say popes do not understand the intricacies of economics. They cite allegedly incontrovertible data that the liberal free market for all its evils has increased the well-being of the citizens of the world generally. The average person, they say, has more access to goods than before. However, others like India’s Arundhati Roy insist it has only widened the gap between rich and poor.

I am hard-pressed to discern what is really the truth. Regarding Fr Clyde Harvey’s (now Bishop) lifelong concern for the underdog, Fr Henry Charles (deceased) once said the work Fr Harvey did in the archdiocese must move from being identified with a person to the Church.

In other words, when people think of the local Church they must be able to say the local Church is famous for “THIS!”. What the “this” is to me is not clear enough at the moment. We must be able to say with credibility across the classes that the Roman Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Port of Spain is famous for “this!”. I think this will be important in stopping the hemorrhaging in numbers we continue to see. Credibility brings numbers because Catholics will be proud to be associated with the “this!”.

To some extent the “this” already exists e.g. SERVOL and Living Water Community have become household names. Education is another contender but extensive repair needs to be done here.

We need a new ministry that will become a household name. Possibilities include working extensively with ex-prisoners, illegal immigrants, a long-term commitment to East Port of Spain, making noise like an angry Mary on their behalf.

I am searching for ideas here. The ground for such an idea can be laid through a rethink of Catholic education. Should we not close some of our primary schools and convert them into centres of second chance for the thousands who have failed Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC)?

Many of our schools are named after Mary while others were founded by women with a deep devotion to Mary. All these congregations began with the poor; all their schools have Marian devotions. Mary the poor woman from a backwater village in Galilee would be more interested in development that favours the poor and marginalised.

But I am yet to discern a concerted shift in professional priorities in the direction of rural and urban development. The merit of our schools is still judged by the ‘prestige’ professions we foster; it is as if a student is nothing without a career in medicine, law or engineering. There is a long line of medical graduates waiting to get into internship programmes at our Regional Health Authorities, with long faces of disappointment when they can’t. Should they all be there?

Our schools have consciously or unconsciously promoted “ontological reductionism”—a truncated understanding of being: I am something if I am doctor, lawyer or engineer; I am nothing otherwise, including a priest.

Parents are quite happy thinking this way: the success of their children in these careers gives them a quality of being that they were denied for whatever reason. Before I was nothing; now, because of my son or daughter who is a doctor, I am something.

There must be a radical shift away from this mentality. I can’t think of any society that has made great strides without planning and sacrifice. We need Catholic undergrads to make big sacrifices, to specialise in fields beyond the customary prestige professions.

Considering the dire state of the economy, the parlous state of the man-woman relationship, and a surging tide of mentally ill, we need to have many more economists, educationists, agriculturists, sociologists, psychiatric social workers, counsellors, anthropologists, tech-voc teachers, environmentalists etc with an employment sector wide enough to absorb them. The waste of human capital needs to be arrested, especially young male human capital.

Jesus deliberately chose the life he did; he turned his back on other opportunities, made sacrifices for the sake of a bigger dream—the Kingdom. As Easter comes to an end, do we still believe this?