By Kaelanne Jordan
In view of the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated restrictions on public gatherings, the bishops of the Antilles Episcopal Conference (AEC) did not convene physically in the Diocese of St John’s-Basseterre, Antigua for this year’s 65th Annual Plenary Meeting (APM). Instead, the bishops met virtually via Zoom from Sunday, April 18 to Friday 23.
The overall theme of the meeting centred on the bishops’ engendering a mindset of synodality as the way of achieving collaboration and intentional inclusion of all stakeholders in the new way of being Church.
“Synodality really calls for everyone making the contribution at a, not necessarily at an equal level because everybody has a different role, but to include everybody in the decision-making process. And that in itself is a conversion experience. The bishops agree that it is the way to go,” AEC President Bishop Gabriel Malzaire of Roseau, Dominica said during a Facebook live conversation with AEC General Secretary Fr Donald Chambers on April 23.
Listening, especially to the “aches and pains” of the grassroots, plays a key role in synodality, Bishop Malzaire said. The AEC President asserted that this new way for the Conference must emerge from structure within each diocese that facilitates participation in pastoral planning and actualisation of the Church’s mission.
The APM began with a retreat day facilitated by retreat director Fr Timothy Radcliffe OP. Fr Radcliffe set the stage for the APM, inviting introspection of the bishops’ managerial style so as to arrive at a course of action that will inspire hope through their pastoral ministry.
Leadership by the bishops that will enable accompaniment and facilitate conversation by accommodating and giving a voice to people, especially those on the margins who are likely to be excluded was also emphasised.
Among the highlights of the APM was the amalgamation of the AEC Commissions from 14 to 9 priority areas. The AEC comprises 19 territories in the region which means there was a “depletion” and a “dearth” in the bishops’ capability in working together.
Bishop Malzaire will now chair the Commission on Communications.
Commenting on his new role, he added that he is still learning how to go about it. “More and more, we’re coming to realise as a Conference that communication has to be key to our pastorate, how we evangelise and absolutely how we do everything as a Conference.”
He added, “In fact I kind of accepted initially to do this because I see it as a learning curve for me. I want to learn better how to communicate and especially with the use of social media today when everybody has everything at their fingertips… if you’re not with it along with the people, you get passed by and the Church should not allow itself to be passed by….”
Pan AEC Synod
The intention to stage a Pan AEC Synod continues to unfold as Bishop Clyde Harvey of St George’s-in-Grenada reported on the constituting of the task force that is intended to have a representative from each diocese to participate in determining the terms of reference and the how of realising this initiative.
It is hoped that this Synod will foster deeper regional identity amongst the whole People of God.
The issue of Catholic education in the region is the possible theme for the Synod. “It seems to be according to our discussion, the area of education is coming up high on the list …we felt that Catholic education is becoming more and more important for us to look at as an issue. In certain levels we feel we are losing ground in communicating the value, the precious jewel we have in Catholic education.”
The AEC bishops expressed solidarity and made a commitment of support for Bishop Gerard County CSSp and the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines affected by the eruption of the La Soufrière volcano.
This present reality of how the nations of the region remain vulnerable to the consequence of natural disaster strengthened the resolve of the bishops to explore strategies for building an AEC Disaster Fund.
The commitment of CARITAS Caribbean to remain a dependable partner to provide assistance in the face of disasters was reaffirmed by the international and regional heads who made presentation at the Conference.
The AEC bishops welcomed Bishop-elect Neil Scantlebury of Bridgetown, Barbados, to his first Conference. Bishop Emeritus Michel Marie Jacques Dubost CIM, the Apostolic Administrator of Cayenne, was also introduced to the Conference.
Tribute was paid to Archbishop Robert Rivas OP of Castries, St Lucia who will retire in June. His farewell celebrations are being planned for July in Castries.