Friars Jim Bok, Colin King, and Steve Dupuis at Mary, Gate of Heaven friary in Negril, Jamaica.

I’ve been visiting the friars in Jamaica. It’s a country of contrasts: such natural beauty and such desperate poverty. I find it easy to pray surrounded by the beauty in the morning before I meet anyone. Then I am surprised by how much I need to pray for the people I meet. There is a woman at Mass who prays for each person that she knows who requires this prayer. It can take a few minutes before we are able to add our “Lord hear our prayer”.

Andrea in kitchen

Andrea Miles, dishes up food at St. Anthony’s Kitchen

Friars Jim Bok, Colin King and Steve Dupuis make up Mary, Gate of Heaven Friary in Negril. Friar Saleem Amir of St. Joseph’s is on a break, at home in Pakistan with the friars for their Assembly. I haven’t made it over to Savanna-la-mar this time. One morning I travel with Colin to visit his parishes. He covers a lot of country, but everywhere, people know him. One couple on a motorcycle honk and wave at him as we travel. Colin pulls over and they have a discussion about their upcoming wedding. Another woman waves him over to discuss her concerns in the parish. Later we meet a team of dentists and hygienists before they leave. They have seen over 500 people at the makeshift clinic that Colin has put together at one of his parishes “in the bush”. There’s also the initiative of helping members of the community start their own chicken and pig micro farms in the bit of land they have for their yard.

In the yard of the friary in Negril there is a constant stream of people with their needs. Many come for help with medical bills. Jim uses money from the poverty fund to help meet a portion that they are unable to pay. He’s become an expert social worker – knowing what the base income is for most people and determining what is just for them to pay. One man came in with a gash on his head from a machete. He had been accosted and needed now to go back to the hospital to get his stitches removed. Suddenly cab fare emerged. On the porch someone has donated a wheelchair to allow a grandmother to move her granddaughter. This granddaughter received an “injection” of some sort when she went to the hospital with a fever at the age of two. It permanently stopped this child’s growth and left her unable to move except for her eyelids and smile. Abandoned by her mother, this girl is still carried in the arms of her grandmother these past twenty years. Now, with the help of the donated wheelchair, the grandmother can more easily get her around.

St. Anthony’s Kitchen is helping neighbors with brown stew chicken this Wednesday. I’m told it’s not chicken stew in Jamaica. Generous portions of rice are the base. The stew is ladled out full of vegetables and chicken backs. There is a crowd in the Kitchen yard waiting, each with tickets. They return the ticket and receive a hoped-for plate. Across the street are the tiny houses that many live in – no running water, just small shacks, one next to the other. Again, I’m amazed at the contrast.

God, You are with us in our own beauty and poverty. Help us to be with others as they manage these same experiences in their lives.

Fr. Jim, Dwayne, Tahira, and Br. Steve

In Negril, Pastor Jim Bok, MGH employee Dwayne Hall, Secretary Tahira Leachman, and friar Steve Dupuis