Fri | Jan 19, 2018

Peter Espeut | Easter renewal in the inner city

Published:Friday | April 14, 2017 | 12:44 AM

It is my pleasure to be serving the people of St Anne’s Church in western Kingston and Holy Name Church in Greenwich Town. The St Anne’s church community was formed in 1893 when Oxford Street and Bond Street were happier places. Today, shottas continue to terrorise the residents, and we lose church members to gun violence, which can be demoralising.

St Anne’s High School has had to be closed because of the levels of violence in the area, which threatened the lives of students and teachers. The young people in our community are no less bright than those who live elsewhere in Kingston and the rest of Jamaica, but their access to quality education is threatened because of the present dangers associated with travel to and from the area.

A few weeks ago, I visited the grave site in Greenwich Town of Ivanhoe 'Rhygin' Martin, the anti-hero portrayed by Jimmy Cliff in the Jamaican classic movie 'The Harder They Come'. Badmen continue to be heroes in many parts of the inner city; too many in these politically aligned garrison communities take them as role models, making the work of the churches in the area that much harder.

Nevertheless, we celebrate Holy Week in western Kingston and Greenwich Town. The violence, blood and gore of the passion and death of Jesus somehow seems less horrific because of what many of the church members have seen with their own eyes over the last many years.

Last Sunday, we waved palms and marched along the street, and during the reading of the Passion we cried out “Crucify him!” as we played the role of the crowd.  And in the homily we were reminded that indeed it was our sins that placed Jesus on the cross, and that by his painful stripes we were healed of them.

The liturgies of Holy Week confront us with the ancient symbolism of life exchanged for life. In Egypt, the blood of the Passover lamb saved the Hebrews (the people of the Old Covenant) from slavery and the angel of death, just as the blood of the Lamb of God saved the people of the New Covenant from slavery to sin and death.

The second person of the Triune Godhead in an act of supreme humility emptied himself of his divinity to become human, and then gave all by emptying himself of his human life (see Paul’s letter to the Philippians, Chapter 2). The servant-leader who washes the feet of the disciples on Thursday night, is the same suffering servant who pours himself out in total service on Friday afternoon.

And 2,000 years later, we jus-a-come people get to share in the redemption event in a real way when we break bread and drink of the cup. And we share in the hope of the promised New Heaven and New Earth, the coming Kingdom of peace and justice, where humanity will be in right relationships with one another and with creation.

I know that many modern people do not share this symbolic universe of faith, hope and love. Many are satisfied with answers to the questions “what?”  “where?” and “how?”, but avoid the question “why?”!  Many are self-absorbed in libertarian hedonism (eat, drink and be merry …), or committed to create an idealist secular nirvana (and then what?), and feel us believers to be benighted and misguided.

The mysteries of “life and death, and then life again” explored during this paschal season can stir emotions and awaken dormant optimism, even in the public arena.  There is no need for the inner city to be so dirty, and for the roads to be so rutted. I buried one of my flock in the May Pen Cemetery a couple of weeks ago, the first time I was entering that graveyard; there is no reason for it to be so unkempt.

I am a supporter of the 'broken windows' theory. If public authorities would only collect the garbage, sweep the streets, fix the street lights, create public green spaces, patrol the streets, remove the zinc fences, assist with tasteful fencing, incentivise painting and small flower gardens, people would value themselves and others more.

The areas I now serve church-wise have been represented in parliament by more prime Ministers of both parties than anywhere else in Kingston; and yet there is very little evidence of urban planning or human development infrastructure.

The Easter mysteries we celebrate this week are focused on progress and prosperity for all people – in this life and the next; we can accelerate the coming of the Kingdom by our actions in the here and now.

- Peter Espeut is a development scientist and a Roman Catholic deacon.
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