Saints, storms and statistics

Michael Burke

Thursday, November 01, 2012    

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Today, November, 1 is the feast of All Saints in the Roman Catholic Church and some mainline churches. All Saints Day 2012 comes at a time when Jamaica is picking up the pieces after it was hit by Hurricane Sandy and while the results of the population 2011 population census indicate that Jamaicans are moving away from the mainline churches.

Today, the Roman Catholic Church has a system of canonisation of saints complete with rules. One precondition is the evidence of miracles. Another is the lapse of time during which a thorough investigation is done. In 2001, Gleaner columnist Deacon Peter Espeut made the excellent point that had there been a system of heroes in 1865, the tyrannical governor Edward John Eyre would have been made the national hero, not Paul Bogle and George William Gordon. And one can further speculate that in the days of the pirates, Henry Morgan whom they made governor, would have been a national hero.

Chapter 11 of the Book of Hebrews speaks to the exemplary faith of the earliest Jewish ancestors. We read in Romans 8:28: "We know that by turning everything to their good, God co-operates with all those who love Him, with all those He has called according to His purpose. They are the ones He chose specially long ago and intended to become true images of his Son, so that His Son might be the eldest of many brothers. He called those He intended for this; those He called He justified, and those He justified He shared in His glory."

A study of the lives of the saints can inspire Christians. In Jamaica, studying the lives of our national heroes can also be an inspiration. Not so with the lower Jamaican honours because some have received them for reasons other than merit or worthiness. I have written these sentiments for more than two decades as a newspaper columnist and in the nearly 19 years that I did a commentary on IRIE FM between 1990 and 2009, not just since Usain Bolt was over-decorated. And by the way, I have no problem with the athletes receiving money, land and houses. I much prefer that than overusing our system of honours.

How can we ensure integrity in the award of honours when so many discourage honesty? In 1999, a postman stationed in Montego Bay returned $3 million of government funds that had been mistakenly sent to the post office where he worked. He was referred to as a "big idiot" by many. And when he received a badge of honour the cursing started again. That was 13 years ago. Has there has been any significant change?

Nor do we appreciate martyrs. In the 1980s I attended a movie at Carib cinema about the German priest Father Maximillian Kolby, now a declared saint of the Roman Catholic Church. He swapped places with a man condemned to death in concentration camp so that the man could support his wife and family. The patrons were angry, some hissed their teeth and many said they were sorry they spent their money to see the movie. "Is dis mi pay mi money fah," some asked. Incidentally, 4000 Roman Catholic priests were killed in concentration camps in Germany along with the six million Jews during World War II.

On Sunday October 21, Pope Benedict XVl canonised, among others, Kateri Tekakwitha, a 17th century Mohawk who lived for only 24 years in modern-day Canada. Here in Jamaica, the Roman Catholic Church leases the Donnington Primary School in St Mary to the government. The original name of the school was the Kateri Tekakwitha School, named in honour of this Mohawk woman from Canada decades before she was declared a saint.

In 1951, Jamaica experienced the ravages of Hurricane Charlie. In August 1953, Jamaica was dedicated to the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven with the unveiling of the statue of Mary in front of Holy Trinity Cathedral. It is of note that since Jamaica was dedicated to the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1951, Jamaica has had very few hurricanes. And this has happened in spite of the dwindling number of Roman Catholics in Jamaica as brought out by the population census.

The Roman Catholic Church was banned in Jamaica from 1655 to 1792. And the church was allowed only to operate among those who came from overseas and were Catholics. While some Roman Catholics have left their church for other churches, many Roman Catholics in Jamaica tend to migrate far more than other Jamaicans. Indeed, it is consistent with the complaints that Roman Catholics in Jamaica were mostly of European stock, the same set of people who migrated heavily, starting in the 1970s.

How can music be a reason for switching from the Roman Catholic Church as said by some? Forty years ago people complained that Father Richard

HoLung had brought reggae into the church and was harshly criticised by many anti-Roman Catholics. But in the last 10 years or so, others started to use pop music in worship and they behaved as if they invented the idea when Father Holung did that decades before them.





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