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One Caribbean Church, one people

Archbishop Emeritus Joseph Harris said the holding of a Caribbean Catholic Church synod is “the obvious step forward” for the region to be recognised as a united Church.

“Why have we not had a Caribbean synod yet? And I don’t mean one called by Rome.…For me it’s the obvious step forward if we want to be recognised as a Caribbean Church,” he said last Monday while speaking at the Caribbean Theology Today opening lecture at the Assumption RC Parish Hall, Maraval. The theme of the five-day conference held at the Seminary St John Vianney and Uganda Martyrs, Tunapuna was Confronting the Waves.

The Archbishop Emeritus was responding to the presentation ‘The Audacity to Believe—25 years of Doing Theology in the Caribbean Today’ by Msgr Patrick ‘Paba’ Anthony of St Lucia. The two are founding coordinators of the conference which marks its silver jubilee. The inaugural conference was held in St Lucia, February 2–4, 1994.

Archbishop Harris said the Caribbean Church needed audacity to believe it had something to offer Caribbean society. A “problem” was Catholics of the region refused to see themselves as one Church, one people.

“We refuse to recognise that small island states are not viable in the modern world. Divided we fall and united we stand…and the Church is meant to be an agent of that harmony which is God’s dream and God’s desire for the world,” he said. Archbishop Harris added, “until we have a truly Caribbean Church and not 17 individual dioceses we are in serious trouble.”

Stating he did not want to offend anyone, he commented that problems could not be treated “as Caribbean problems”. He wondered why a regional Church approach was not used for the Venezuelan migrant issue.

“Have we spoken to each other as Church? Have we tried to get our governments to say ‘I will take so many…’ Have we spoken to the Venezuelan bishops to get their take or are we continuing to live in silos?”

Archbishop Harris said Caribbean theology had to work towards creating harmony. He hoped one day for the theology taught to persons training for the priesthood could be “Caribbean theology-based”. However, he said the mindset that “what is from the north is better” had to change so people begin to see themselves as “worthwhile even in the theological enterprise”.

Msgr Anthony illustrated the “audacity” which has distinguished Caribbean theology from “high theology”. He said Fr Michel de Verteuil CSSp, a founding coordinator insisted theology was not just for some, it is about “us”.

Caribbean Theology Today was open to scholars “not necessarily theologians” and lay persons. Msgr Anthony said the conference was open to ecumenism because this is part of the Catholic experience and mandate of the Church.

Persons from the Baptist, Anglican, and Anglo-Catholic faiths have made presentations. Caribbean theologians like Fr Henry Charles (deceased) and then Fr Clyde Harvey were audacious to “speak uncomfortable truths” and took their “licks”. “That’s Caribbean theology,” Msgr Anthony said.

His discourse was punctuated with the question to attendees if there was audacity and courage to take Caribbean theology into the future.

Bishop Gabriel Malzaire of Roseau, Dominica, in remarks before the lecture commended the tenacity and perseverance that has brought the conference to 25 years, “this moment of grace”.

Bishop Malzaire said a challenge the conference had to grapple with was although open to persons of various disciplines not necessarily theologians “the task of finding the synergy that will provide clear directions for faith life of God’s people in the local context is even more urgent”.

Archbishop Jason Gordon celebrated the opening Mass. Bishops Malzaire, and Harvey of St Georges-in-Grenada and Vicar General Fr Martin Sirju were among the concelebrants. —LPG.