Jamaica: hope is on horizon


Thoughts of Jamaica conjure images of a gorgeous beach at sunset, a place to vacation and get away. In this same tropical locale, Claretian Father Tom McGann and his brother priests face serious challenges: crime, poverty, desperation.

The Claretians in the Jamaican mission have struggled for centuries with the effects of poverty. In the aftermath of September 11th, the tourist trade-Jamaica's main industry-suffered too, adding to the poor economy.

"I'd like others to know that there's a great need here," explains Father McGann, C.M.F., pastor of two parishes in the Eastern Province Claretian Mission in Kingston, Jamaica. "The United States is a very blessed country, and we have a responsibility to share what we have with others."

Poverty in the Claretian parishes is rampant. Some people live in the dump area of Kingston where they comb through the trash, or in an old shantytown. "I met a woman who grew up there and has six children," says Father McGann. "Her little shack was about 10 by 13 feet."

The Claretians staff their two parishes in a country where Catholicism is the minority, and in some circles not accepted. For the 350 parishioners at Our Lady of Angels Parish and St. John the Baptist Parish, the Claretians accept the risks of living in these communities to minister among these people who yearn to hear God's word.

On the harsh streets of Kingston, it's easy for people to lose hope. The Claretian hopeful presence is much like the presence of St. Jude in the lives of devotees-steadfast, responsive, and loving. Daily life for the Claretians involves ministering to scores of schoolchildren, traveling on Sundays to local parishes that do not have permanent pastors, and teaching at local schools. "The Claretian understanding is that you do whatever you can to promote the Gospel with whatever means available," says Father McGann.

"In this ministry, I've learned two things: to be ever more sensitive to the needs of the people, and to recognize just how different the ministry in the States is. The people in the States have so much more than what the people here in Jamaica have. But the spirits here are strong."

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