Montego Bay’s Bishop Charles Dufour welcomes friars Mark Gerhet, Humbert Moster, Louie Zant and Henry Beck soon after their arrival in 2000.
Dear Missionaries of Jamaica, both living and deceased,
This is a letter of thanks and appreciation for your journey of experiencing the Gospel with people of another culture in the beautiful country of Jamaica. When many people hear that we friars are in Jamaica, they can only imagine the American resorts that dot many of the beaches. They wink and nudge as they say, “Hey, who wouldn’t want to be stationed in Jamaica?!” And yes, there are bright and sandy beaches, and an island filled with natural beauty all around. But there is also poverty, homelessness, hunger, uneven access to education and proper housing. I’ve seen the shacks that serve as homes, even witnessing a young father caring for his son in a cave with only a fire at its entrance to ward off mosquitos and bigger predators. I’m sure that you have many stories of the stark poverty, but also the beauty of both the people and the country.
The majority of Jamaicans have lived Christianity for many years. Most of us need constant re-evangelization. Brothers, your willingness to come from another culture with your own experience of Jesus allows both you and the Jamaicans to be re-evangelized, converted, once again to Christ. And when you return for our Chapters, you tell the stories of God’s work there. It allows our eyes in the States to be opened to God’s generosity among you.
Most of us come to believe as we meet the Body of Christ in action. And over the years, brothers, your lives have been filled with a genuine compassion for those with whom you live. You were inspired to start St. Anthony’s Kitchen, where a nutritious breakfast and lunch are served. You walked through many neighborhoods, getting to know people in their own homes, offering to pray and anoint. With your help, children who lack transportation are assured they will reach school on time. Many more are receiving an education and are incentivized to strive for a college tuition scholarship. Medical clinics have been established. Small starter businesses for raising goats or chickens have begun.
No wonder the Jamaican people know more about the healing and compassion of Christ by your work and presence. And we know more about Christ the Good Shepherd as we see Him in your action and struggle.
For these 20 years of generous work, prayer and presence, we thank you. And we thank God, who has done this work in you and through you.
(Fr. Mark Soehner, OFM, is the Provincial Minister of the Province of St. John the Baptist.)