Mary, hurricanes and tourism

Michael Burke

Thursday, August 15, 2013

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TODAY is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in the Roman Catholic Church. In 1950, his late Holiness Pope Pius XII declared, infallibly, that the Blessed Virgin Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven, since she was free from the stain of original sin. This is not found in any Bible verse. Roman Catholics believe that divine revelation comes from two sources, the Bible and sacred oral tradition (II Thessalonians 2:15).

The Blessed Virgin Mary points the way to Jesus Christ. She was the virgin spoken of in Isaiah 7:14 that would be with child. Small wonder then, Mary would announce in her Magnificat: "From now on all generations shall call me blessed." (Luke 1:48)

Mary was chosen to be the mother of Jesus Christ because of her sinlessness, hence Gabriel's salutation: "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee." (Luke 1:28) Our Protestant brethren point to the sin offering carried by Mary in the temple as their "proof" that she was not sinless. But that is what Jewish people did, and she did not know that she was sinless, which is why she was disturbed by Gabriel's greeting, wondering what manner of salutation this might be. (Luke 1:29)

In 1951 Hurricane Charlie severely damaged Jamaica. Two years later the Roman Catholic Church dedicated the island to Our Lady of the Assumption, and unveiled a statue of Mary on the premises of Holy Trinity Cathedral to the front of the church. Jamaica did not get a direct hit of a hurricane again until 1988. There are some Roman Catholics who believe that it was because the annual pilgrimage to Our Lady of the Assumption in Morant Bay, St Thomas, was postponed that year. But God does not work like that. The pilgrimage in Morant Bay started about 1969, although the island was dedicated to Our Lady of the Assumption in 1953. Yet there were no hurricanes in the years following Hurricane Charlie until 1988.

This reminds me of Julius Nyerere, who was the first president of independent Tanzania in Eastern Africa. He was a devout Roman Catholic, and he is now up for canonisation. In the Catholic Church there has to be the presence of at least one miracle as evidence that a person is with God in heaven, since all miracles come from God.

In 1974, Julius Nyerere came to Jamaica on a state visit. At the time Jamaica was experiencing a drought worse than the present one. As the aeroplane carrying him touched down at Norman Manley International Airport, the rains poured. In 1975 Julius Nyerere came to Jamaica to the Commonwealth prime minister's conference -- the only one hosted by Jamaica so far. The rains poured heavily as Nyerere arrived at the airport again.

After he retired, Nyerere came here and I understand that as his aeroplane landed the rains came again. Jamaicans who were present at the airport at the exact hour of any of the three times that Julius Nyerere came to Jamaica can give evidence on his behalf. The otherwise unexplained rains might be deemed miraculous by the Church.

As tourism is today Jamaica's number one foreign exchange earner, Nyerere could be part of both history and faith-based tourism. Roman Catholics who are into faith-based tourism would have another reason to come here.

Indeed, the Roman Catholic Church can fill Jamaica's hotels from January to December. Tourism need not be seasonal, with the summer break and the cold winter "up north" being the only times that tourists arrive here.

The Roman Catholic Church has so many feast-days octaves (eight days of prayers for a specific reason), novenas (nine days of prayer for a specific reason), and so on that the hotels can be filled right throughout the year.

With regard to my proposed cooperative project, where the co-operatives buy shares in a hotel, in the first instance, with a view to owning one, eventually the plan is to collaborate with Roman Catholics across the world so that the hotels will be filled. What I am concerned about is employment, which the social teachings of the Roman Catholic Church address.

It was the Blessed Virgin Mary, in her Magnificat (Luke 1), who uttered: "He has brought down rulers from their thrones, but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things, the rich he has sent empty away." (Luke 1: 53)

And this is where I return to the glorious assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose feast day is celebrated today in the Roman Catholic Church. The pilgrimage is held on August 15, if this date falls on a Sunday. When it does not, as is the case most years, including this one, it is held on the Sunday closest to August 15, and will be held, God willing, this coming Sunday.

If we had a travel agency that invited Roman Catholics from abroad to come here as pilgrim tourists to Morant Bay, do you know how many jobs that would provide? Even if the parish of St Thomas does not have many hotels at present, tourists would be transported from other hotels in other parts of the island.

This would mean jobs for taxi drivers, tour bus drivers, jobs for people in the hotels, jobs for craft vendors, and so on. The bedrooms in the hotels employ eight different persons if you include the cleaner attendant, the electrician, the plumber, the carpet cleaner, the furniture repair person, the air conditioner maintenance person, the painter, and whoever else. The rooms have to be in a constant state of readiness to meet world standards, otherwise the tourists will not come in the sort of numbers that we desire.

Jamaica would further benefit economically by whatever plate offerings the Roman Catholic Church would receive from pilgrim tourists, since a substantial portion of the Catholic overall plate offerings goes to help the poor anyway. Those who see the importance of such a project, please talk to me or at least e-mail me.




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