First published in the Mirror Newspaper – Friday June 16, 2000 – A number of major philosophies have radically impacted our belief systems from the beginning of time as we know it. Perhaps for us as a people, the deepest conflict will continue to rage between the polarised views of atheists, scientists and believers (in a God).
The centuries have given us a plethora of philosophies. In Saint Lucia we best define our existence within the dominant theories of democracy, capitalism and Christianity as enshrined predominantly through Roman Catholicism.
In this rapidly changing global environment, statistics still reveal that in the English speaking Caribbean, Saint Lucia has the largest Catholic population. The Church itself recognises that at this time more than ever, there are significant challenges ahead for its membership. In North America, Catholics are demanding more liberty from obligations to the Church and its rigid teachings. In South Africa, there are insufficient priests and clergy to meet the growing needs of the population. In Latin America, people are still in turmoil, struggling for their basic freedoms.
Just as world economics, government policies and social processes are undergoing fundamental transformation, so too is the church looking inward to identify its weaknesses and build on its strengths.
The staging of the Antilles Eucharistic Congress in Saint Lucia at this time is only a small part of this re-engineering that is so critical to the survival of the church. There will always be the great divide in thought as to whether it is the State or the Church that is in control. There is no doubt however, that the Church does create a blueprint for moral behaviour in present day society.
It is in this context that at the turn of the century, which the Church calls the Great Jubilee Year, celebrations would emerge to encompass all people in the global village. The event has already found its place in the annals of history, and many of us will be wont to record our part in the unfolding drama.
It took one year of masterful crafting. There is a Chinese seed that, once planted, grows under-ground strengthening its roots for some five to ten years before it shows the first bud above ground. This is really the way the Antilles Eucharistic Congress grew. Under-ground was the Steering Committee and the Central Planning Committee, linked by the Secretariat. Then there were sub-committees of the Central Planning Committee for Music, Youth, Finance, Transport, Medical, Hospitality, Programmes, Catering, Souvenirs, Education, Liturgy, Public Relations, Site, Pageantry and Ecumenism. Each of these committees was represented at the Deanery level – (Deaneries being groupings of various parishes, of which there are six).
The roots were strong. Finally in February of 2000, buds began to sprout. Between February and March the arms of the tree began to take shape. It was going to be a strong one. From North to South mass rallies were organised to sensitise people on a number of issues – the Eucharistic Congress was imminent. This was all part of the Jubilee celebrations as Church. This would involve everyone who wanted to be involved. The message was being spread through schools, churches, community groups, and finally, the media began to run with it.
The tree was large. It was May. For the Church in Saint Lucia, the Congress would “deepen our faith and understanding of the Church and particularly the Eucharist, and to motivate us to give the required devotion, honour, worship and adoration due to Jesus Christ… It is also an an expression of our union with the universal church”.
Every day of the Congress, workshops were organised in every parish. There were 66 workshops held simultaneously in every Catholic Church, for three consecutive days. That is tremendous effort and organisation down to a fault. Every day of the Congress, services were held in every parish. And on Saturday May 20, Candlelight processions took place simultaneously in every parish.
The tree has grown branches and fruits. Sunday May 21: “D-Day”. Mindoo Phillip Park is transformed completely. About 12,000 chairs are strategically positioned with remarkable precision to cushion the anticipated crowd for a day of worship – under the sky.
It was the day that history will always remember as “the Miracle of the Cloud”. There was no sun, only cloud hanging over the people who had come to pray and share – people who had come from everywhere – in Saint Lucia and across the Atlantic.
The tree will last forever, in the minds and hearts of all who were there. And this time, when the question is asked – “Were you there when…?” Many will answer, yes.
2017 Update: The Catholic faith, having been at 90 something percent in the early 1970’s, continues to dwindle. Churches are becoming emptier. Perhaps people want more from their priests, but the priests themselves, human too, are tired, and also dwindling in number. The moral leadership has been shaken at its very core. People are questioning. When I was growing up and attending the midnight mass at Christmas, if you wanted a seat, you had to be in church by 8:30pm. Now, a person can waltz in and still find a really good seat at ten minutes to midnight. But I guess there has been a decline in a lot of things, and right alongside that, a general decline in the very fabric of our society.