Culture in Jamaica

Posted by

On Friday, after morning mass, we visited one of the local parish schools in Cassava River where the children had “devotions” or prayers and it was followed by a celebration of Jamaican Culture Day. We learned a lot about the culture and traditions of this island state and of the multi-cultural origins that helped shaped it.

The Jamaican flag has black colours to remind them of the days of hardship of slavery and hardships the nation faces today. The green is for the lush and rich vegetation. The yellow is for the sunshine of Jamaica. The rest of Friday was spent visiting with children and walking around the area in Above Rocks. I visited some of the other pre-schools they have and also the local vocational school on the church grounds.

I am struck by how poor some of the children really are. Some have nothing to eat and barely any parental support. It’s a rather complicated situation and the friars do their best to respond to the needs… but some of the structural and social issues cannot be attended to simply by charity. The friars are also trying to help move some issues to the forefront of discussion among the people. Above Rocks is desperate for fathers… and I don’t mean priests!  Another interesting fact is that in the 5 years the friars have been at Above Rocks they have not witnessed any weddings. Not one.  In the parish with it’s four churches, they can point to only one “couple” that attends mass together. There’s a lot of work to be done, sensitive to the local culture but also inviting people to reclaim their Catholic identity.

Saturday was a fun day. The friars took us to Lime Cay,  a small deserted island just off of Kingston. We spent the afternoon there enjoying the warm Caribbean Sea. We then took the ferry back to port where we had a cold beer before heading to dinner in the old city of Port Royal (as seen in the film Pirates of the Caribbean) which is also home to the old Fort Charles. Port Royal is quite dilapidated, but there’s s tiny kitchen and patio known as “Gloria’s” which serves the most amazing fresh fish. You can actually see them bringing the fish off the boats. There were only two items on the menu that night; Fish or Lobster, steamed, fried, garlic or curry. I took the fish. It was deep fried in this huge, extremely hot bin of oil and covered in onions and scotch bonnet peppers. It was incredible. It was served with “festival” which is a kind of corn-meal stick. I think the national motto of Jamaica should be “Starch & Fried”!  They are going to kill me at Weight Watchers when I get back! The drive home that night was interesting. The winding roads back up to Above Rocks are challenging enough, but in the dark… wow… I said every prayer I knew.

Sunday I was taken by Br. Mike Duffy (not related to the CBC journalist) up to the church in Cassava River for the 9:00 am liturgy. It’s a small, pretty church with about 25 people. The liturgy was simple and prayerful. On the way there we picked up all sorts of people in the friars’ truck who otherwise would have to walk a long way. The women and (few men) and children were dressed in their Sunday best. They would put most of us at St. Bonaventure to shame. That’s actually been one of the challenges the friars face. Some of the people feel that unless they have fine clothes they cannot come to mass. This sometimes happens in other denominations that are fussy about what people wear. You might actually be asked to leave if you’re not dressed correctly. The friars are trying to get the message out that all are welcome, as they are.  You’re always welcome at St. Mary’s, Above Rocks. Sound familiar? I guess it’s a Franciscan mantra.

After mass we dropped everyone off to return to the main church for the 11:00 liturgy. There were about  50-75 people at this mass and the music was quite lively and engaging. Both here and at the earlier liturgy I was challenged to preach for longer than the normal ideal of 8 to 10 minutes. The custom of long “sermons” of other denominations and the fact that they travel by foot to get to church means that they expect to be in church for a while. I managed to preach for 20 minutes.  Early feedback seems that the homily was well received. It was a privilege to celebrate with the people at Above Rocks.

Sunday afternoon we took off to Kingston to the motherhouse of the Franciscan Sisters to watch they Gold Medal hockey game between the US and Canada. The friars don’t get NBC on their TV so we had to go there. It was a fun afternoon. We then went off to a local fast-hood joint for some jerk chicken. That was quite unique. The food was good… the service a little nutty.

That’s it for now. Let’s all say a little prayer in thanksgiving for Sydney Crosby!