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AEC annual meeting goes virtual —Bishops to reflect on pandemic

By Kaelanne Jordan
Twitter: @kaelanne1

Technology has given the bishops of the Antilles Episcopal Conference (AEC) the ability to remain safe while also carrying out their crucial work. They have scheduled this year’s Annual Plenary Meeting (APM) virtually using Zoom following government-imposed restrictions on interregional travel, interactions, and on most gatherings larger than a few people to curb the spread of COVID-19.

The annual meeting of the regional Church leaders begins today, Sunday till Friday, May 1.

According to Catholic Standard, the main item on the agenda was to continue the creation of a plan for integral parish development. This programme was aimed at fostering a more integrated approach to the development of parish life in the context of being Church in a digital age.

“However, the bishops are now suddenly aware that they have to be more creative on how they approach ministry in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic,” the diocesan weekly reported.

It said that the Church leaders feel the pandemic is going to have an ongoing impact on people’s lives in general. They have therefore decided to focus almost their entire meeting on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Recently, Pope Francis has been calling attention to major moral, social, economic, and other issues which have arisen as a result of the pandemic. The bishops are likely to use some of these statements of Pope Francis on the pandemic to reflect more deeply on how to move forward from the current scenario in the region.

AEC General Secretary Fr Donald Chambers told Catholic News that the meeting, which usually begins with a day of prayer and reflection will include a retreat day for the bishops, among other activities.

The retreat will be facilitated virtually from France by Fr Laurence Freeman OSB, director of the World Community for Christian Meditation under the theme Feed my sheep and care for yourself.

“Basically, what he will be doing is drawing on the sources of wisdom in the Benedictine tradition and also the tradition of the Desert Fathers in leading the bishops to engaging in deep prayer.”

An “interesting twist” to this online meeting according to Fr Chambers is coordinating the meeting against the four zones: Belize, Jamaica, the Eastern Caribbean and French Guiana.

“So, you can imagine the challenge that this will pose having this online meeting traversing four different time zones,” Fr Chambers said via phone on Monday.

He however explained that the meeting will follow the Eastern Caribbean Time Zones as a “guide”.

The prayer day and the study day on Monday is important, Fr Chambers said. During study day, the AEC bishops will look at the reawakening of the contentive dimension of the faith in all areas of Christian life—personal prayer life, parish renewal, religious education, spiritual leadership.

“And all of this is in the context of the COVID-19. The bishops have been leading the dioceses in a stressful time and it’s important for the bishops to renew themselves, to take care of themselves in order to take care of their laity. And that’s why the theme of the retreat day and study day….”

On Wednesday, the AEC bishops will engage in an open theological, pastoral, and spiritual reflection on the impacts of COVID-19 on the Church today.

“The day will end with the questions: ‘What’s the way forward? How are we going to lead in this new era of COVID-19?’,” Fr Chambers shared.

The AEC Secretary coined Wednesday, Thursday and Friday as “business days” where the AEC bishops will examine their arch/diocese’s respective finances, receive reports from various Commissions of the AEC, and be addressed by AEC President Bishop Gabriel Malzaire of Roseau, Dominica and Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Fortunatus Nwachukwu.