Religion & Culture | Jamaica's Catholics: Down but not out!
Jamaican Stephanie Kiddar was born into the Anglican faith but converted to Roman Catholicism during her tenure at St Gabriel's Academy in Balaclava, St Elizabeth. She completed graduate degrees in Australia where she served as an educator before returning home to care for her ailing mother and disabled sister.
After their passing in 1999, she sought comfort in her faith, cementing her affiliation to Saint John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church. Later, she joined the Legion of Mary, an association of Catholics that originated in Dublin, Ireland.
"The object of the Legion of Mary," she said, "is to combat the ills of the world through prayer and service."
Operating under the leadership of the parish priest or an ecclesiastical body, members are expected to emulate Mary through humility, obedience, perseverance and self-sacrifice.
"We must reflect love in all that we are called to do," Kiddar explained.
Duties include: evangelising, visiting the sick, assisting the aged or incapacitated in daily chores, and offering spiritual care for those who are physically unable to attend Sunday service.
As Kiddar's faith grew, so did her involvement in church affairs.
"I became a lector and was soon drafted as a member of the Catechesis Ministry and the Church Council," she said.
When the Ministry of Labour and Social Security asked the church to be involved in the National Council for Senior Citizens, Kiddar's role expanded, becoming president of the new ministry that promoted a better lifestyle for seniors.
"We worked tirelessly to ensure that seniors were protected against physical and emotional abuse; we encouraged active ageing, participation in communities, and inter-generational activities," she pointed out.
After serving two successful terms, Kiddar migrated.
"Since my return in 2012, I have not been fully engaged in church work but I am still involved with the Legion of Mary and do fulfil my obligatory prayers and devotion on a daily basis," she said.
In 2014, Kiddar recommitted herself to service, this time in the form of authorship.
"For the 50th anniversary of the establishment of Saint John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church, I undertook the ambitious task of penning its history. I knew this would be a challenge because the only available resource was the older members of the congregation and retired priests, bishops and archbishops, many of whom had passed away," she stated.
She persevered, though, and completed the influential 'The History of Saint John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church', a publication that followed the romantic 1995 novel Fun Gryndingride, and Barbara Isabel (2001) that chronicled the valiant life of her disabled sister.
Kiddar has expressed concern over the marked increase in the number of ageing congregants along with the dwindling attendance at Mass.
"The church must see to it that members of the Eucharistic Ministry administer Holy Communion to folks who are no longer able to attend Mass. We must go to them if necessary," she said.
She refers to members of the Women's League, the Legion of Mary and her prayer group that make frequent visits to the ageing and sick.
"We offer companionship to the lonely and depressed and those needing legal aid," she said.
Poverty still remains a nagging issue nationally. The church, she said, has ably responded with its outreach programme.
Regarding another of the church's achievements, Kiddar cited the establishment of the Saint John the Baptist Kinder-Preparatory School, the Altar Servers' Association, the Catechesis Ministry, and the Catholic Youth Organisation.
"This guarantees faith formation and the continuation and growth of Catholic teaching," she said.
Still, Kiddar conceded that young people are moving away from church tradition and "are more easily drawn to anything that moves them. For example, while seasoned church members reflect on hymns and prayers, young members heartily respond to the infectiousness of gospel movement."
The retired educator believes that disaffection among youth can be dispelled through a structured ecclesiastical policy. She also argued for kindness and understanding towards the young generation.
"When they get to the point where God is seen as the Almighty Creator of all things and deserving of reverence, then a change in attitude should be forthcoming," she shared.
Concerning the torrid sex scandal that rocked the Catholic Church in the last decade, Kiddar is unambiguous.
"I am dissatisfied that a firmer and uncompromising stand against perpetrators was not adopted by authorities. However, at no time did these scandals affect my faith in the church," she said.
Kiddar holds that religion is a building block of a nation, an essential component in the full integration of the individual into society.
"Whether you choose Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, or Shinto, your motive is to follow its teachings so that your journey through life is made that much easier. Catholics have chosen Christ as their leader and, therefore, follow His teachings. Not many of us will succeed in acquiring every goal we set, but we must try and live according to His instructions to improve our lives and society as a whole," she noted.
Although unapologetically Catholic, Kiddar embraces interfaith dialogue as a medium towards social tolerance and healing.
"Many battles could have been avoided in communities if more discussions were held among different denominations," she opined. "Here, in Jamaica, with a largely Christian population, antagonism resulting from religious conflicts is minimal. There are many instances where representatives from various denominations meet to deliberate on issues affecting the Jamaican society. In fact, the prayer breakfast in church circles has been used to address a number of social issues, including crime."
Kiddar is optimistic that the church will assume the august position it once held.
"My parish is rich in aspirations," she said, identifying the recent ordination of priests as a harbinger of good tidings. "We are intent on increasing our membership, and parishioners have a desire to improve the overall function of the church and to evangelise on an even larger scale."
- Dr Glenville Ashby is the author of 'Anam Cara: Your Soul Friend and Bridge to Enlightenment', now available as an audiobook. Feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter@glenvilleashby