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Pilgrimage to Our Lady of the Assumption in Morant Bay

Published:Saturday | August 28, 2021 | 12:07 AM

Nineteen-fifty was a remarkable year for Catholics. With the declaration by Pope Pius XII that the Blessed Virgin Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven, the Feast Day was set for August 15.

When Hurricane Charlie devastated Jamaica in 1951, the then Roman Catholic Apostolic Vicar for Jamaica, Bishop John J. McEleney, in 1953, dedicated Jamaica to Our Lady of the Assumption to protect us from hurricanes. The faithful gathered annually at Holy Trinity Cathedral for a special Mass on August 15. In later years, a demonstration of faith was added, with a march from St George’s College to the cathedral.

In Morant Bay, the church was dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes. But when the new church was built at the present location under the leadership of Fr John Alexander SJ, it was dedicated to Our Lady of Assumption. When Father Stanley Shearer was transferred to Morant Bay in 1970, he invited Catholics from all churches in the archdiocese of Kingston to a pilgrimage that included a demonstration of faith through the streets of Morant Bay. Impressed by the expression of faith of the pilgrims, Archbishop Samuel Carter made the pilgrimage an annual event of the Catholic Church.

The pilgrimage became popular when Father Francis Cawley became pastor and included the bands from St Patrick’s Church and from St Anne’s Church. Father Cawley was from Ireland and was on loan to us from his home diocese. It was Father Cawley who one could say ‘jazzed up’ the pilgrimage.

In the 1990s, priests of the Society of the Divine Word arrived in Jamaica to take charge of the Morant Bay Missions. By this time, the pilgrimage had grown to immense proportions. Eventually, the prayers would include petitions to pray that no natural disasters, not just hurricanes, befall Jamaica.

Many Jamaicans have noted that since the dedication of the island by the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1953, Jamaica has experienced very few hurricanes.

– Michael Burke