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We, the Bishops of the Antilles Episcopal Conference joyfully greet the faithful of all the various Arch/Dioceses of the Antilles Episcopal Conference with the words of the risen Christ addressed to his apostles: "Peace be with you!”[John 20:21].
In 2015, the Holy Father, Pope Francis will convene a Synod of Bishops in Rome to study and reflect upon the reality and importance of the family. To that end, we, your bishops wish to make clear the Church's teaching on the nature of marriage and the family in God's plan. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: "Marriage and the family are ordered to the good of the spouses and to the procreation and education of children...A man and a woman united in marriage, together with their children, form a family" [CCC #2201 & 2202].
The holy institution of marriage thus understood is the very cell of society and Church life. We, therefore, commend and salute those who espouse this noble vocation which is beautiful and at the same time inspirational when lived faithfully, in spite of difficulties and hardship encountered because of its self-sacrificing nature. For that reason, Vatican Council II reminds us thus: "Christ our Lord has abundantly blessed this love, which is rich in its divine love and modelled on Christ's own union with the Church" [GS:Church in the Modern World, #48]. We pray that married couples will never tire witnessing to their being "a union of loves in the service of life." Indeed, this is a lifestyle worthy of praise and our whole-hearted support!
We wish to reach out to our brothers and sisters who espouse a lifestyle that is contrary to the divine teaching proclaimed by the Church from time immemorial. As your bishops we wish to affirm that you are loved and blessed by God with many gifts and talents which have enriched both Church and society.
We also admit that we cannot begin to appreciate fully the extent of the pain, anguish and trials that you daily undergo, especially within the atmosphere that is prevalent in the Caribbean. Like Pope Francis, we, too, sincerely hope that you—like us—will seek to know and love personally the will of God who embraces all his children, without exception, with a love that surpasses all understanding.
The Love of God
This is the basis of God's laws and commandments which have as their objective the total fulfilment or happiness of persons. The Church recognises the fact that God always reveals his designs for his creatures which are made in the very image of God [Gen.1: 27]. When we begin to fathom the beauty of this teaching and how it impacts upon people's situation, it leads us to consider two aspects of God's revelation: Creation which determines the law of nature; Redemption or re-creation which pertains to the divine positive law consonant with the salvation and glorification of humanity.
Creation [Law of Nature]
It is evident from the species created that there is some set order that regulates and furthers the on-going creation set in motion by God, the Creator. Both inanimate and animate beings are regulated by a certain design that is enshrined in the very act of creation [cf. Gen. 1: 11-12; 24-25]. Of interest is the fact that all are created according to their kind. Most importantly, "God created man in his image; in the image of God he created him: male and female he created them"(Gen. 1:27). They are created to complement one another and are explicitly directed to multiply and care for the earth [cf. Gen. 1:28]. For believers--be they Jewish, Christian or Muslim--this creation story undergirds the essence of marriage and the family.
Redemption [Divine Positive Law]
The Ten Commandments are the basics of the divine law, the objective of which is proper relationships with God and with fellow human beings. The Saviour sums up the Decalogue under the Great Commandment: love God and love neighbour [cf. Dt. 6: 4-5; Lev. 19: 17], all of which culminates in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus, which ushers in a new life welling up into eternal life. This Great Love Story of salvation could be considered as God embracing all of humanity with an everlasting love. Dare we say that married love between man and woman reflects this beautiful union?
By his saving death and glorious resurrection, Jesus has liberated humankind from the innumerable burden of laws and regulations which were meant to safeguard God's covenanted relationship with mankind. However, in no way was license intended, as St. Paul reminds the early Church: "After all, brothers, you were called to be free; do not use your freedom as an opening for self-indulgence, but be servants to one another in love, [Gal. 5:13]. Clearly St. Paul gives us an indication of our relationships with one another, a relationship that is based on love that is Christ-related.
The Gender Debate
Having established ever so briefly the context, within which Christians should conduct themselves, be they married or single, we wish to comment on the topical issue of gender. It must be clearly established that all human beings, be they male or female, young or old, are endowed with inalienable rights, but rights, however, that must not infringe upon the rights of other human beings nor undermine the common good of society. What are some of those rights? The right to freedom of expression, right to freedom of religion, right to marry and to have a family, the right to an education, health care, housing, and employment. Without such rights life would not be worth living!
To sum up, then, the right to life is the most fundamental of all rights; all others are predicated on that right to life that ensures the integrity of one's dignity which is imparted neither by Church nor State, but by God, the Creator. Each person, male or female, is equal in the pursuit of those rights that ensure fulfilment of one's potential, but it must be remembered that with rights come responsibilities. For Christians, such responsibilities entail their relationship with God, and are expressed by acts of reverence, respect, and acceptance of God's will which is enshrined both in natural and divine positive laws. No one has a right to contravene natural and divine laws. Doing so leads to our peril and the determination of family life and society.
Marriage as Covenant between Man and Woman
Within the wider context of gender, we return to the question of Marriage. We do so because world-wide there is much discussion with a view to altering the age-old tradition of this far-reaching relationship that affects the very existence of the human race, civil society, and the Church. Marriage between one man and one woman is not only a Christian institution. It is also pre-Christian and is recognised as the ideal means and context whereby children are raised with love that is both masculine and feminine [to correspond to the masculinity and femininity of each person], and educated for their rightful role in the society. Christ himself recognised and raised this complementary union of man and woman to the level of a sacrament--not just as a contract but a covenant. We never tire to reflect on this marital union as one that signifies the great mystery of covenanted union of Christ and his Church [cf. Eph. 5: 21-33].
One of the "rights" being promulgated aggressively today in our Caribbean Region is the union between persons of the same gender. In light of our age-old tradition of marriage that ensures the propagation of the human race and the promulgation of our civilisation and culture, same-sex union is being promoted by very powerful forces, as a “civil right” and an alternative form of "marriage." Same-Sex unions are contrary both to natural law and God’s positive divine law as outlined above and indeed to the Christian culture on which we still pride ourselves in the Caribbean.
Advocacy of same-sex union is presented as a means to address justice issues as a result of two homosexuals or lesbians living together and owning jointly their home, bank accounts, and other legal assets. This sort of arrangement is viewed by many as a move in the wrong direction. It would be a mere civil union recognised by the State, but not by the Church who has no competence in changing the law of nature or the divine positive law in order to recognise such unions as "marriage." However, given the fact that assets are jointly owned by persons espousing such a union, the Church recognises the justice issue thus entailed.
The Mission of the Church
Does that mean that the Church is not concerned about men and women having such an orientation? Of course not! The Church's role is to proclaim the Truth, "in season, out of season" [2 Tim. 4:2] to each and every person who would listen to the Word of God being proclaimed. It is that proclamation received in faith that will bring about a deeper understanding of the Truth that the Holy Spirit wishes to impart to every human being in the quest of happiness and peace. Hopefully that deeper understanding will lead to a true encounter with Christ for all of us so that we see in each other brothers and sisters on the way to Christ. However, when people make choices for lifestyles contrary to the gospel, the Church must be full of mercy, slow to judge; rather she proclaims "in season, out of season," the love and compassion of the Good Shepherd who tenderly seeks out the stray sheep and says to one and all: "Come to me all who are weary and burdened" [Matt. 11:28].
Therefore, in imitation of the Good Shepherd, the Church must care for all human beings and love them. All are God's creatures "made in the image of God." To that end, the Church teaches regarding homosexual, bisexual and transsexual orientations: "They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfil God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition" [CCC, #2358].
The mission of the Church is clearly defined: "Go into the whole world and proclaim the Good News, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" [Matt. 28:19-20a]. That’s the Church’s mandate to proclaim the Good News of salvation!
Therefore, we appeal to our Catholic faithful to stand firm in the faith handed on to us by the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church impelled by and committed to the teaching and mission of Jesus. We also strongly urge that all will respect those brothers and sisters of ours who admit to having an orientation different from the majority of our people. We must respect them, do no violence to them, and respect their basic human rights, for they, along with us, are made in the image and likeness of God.
Respect for others, however, does not imply approval of the life styles contrary to the traditional ones, even if and when the State were to decriminalise the anti-buggery law, always bearing in mind that legality does not make a thing moral. Our duty, under all circumstances, is to express love and concern as we remain firm in the faith of our Fathers fostered and maintained by God's Holy Spirit.
“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with every good that you may do his will, working in you that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen” [Heb. 13: 20 – 21].
Yours faithfully in Christ,
Bishops of the Antilles Episcopal Conference
8 May 2014
The Bishops of the Antilles Episcopal Conference (AEC) have voted to expand membership by all dioceses of the region in Caritas Antilles, the Church’s main agency for response to the poor and marginalized and to victims of natural and other disasters.
The unanimous decisions was taken at the Annual Plenary Meeting(APM) of the AEC 6-8 May in Mandeville, Jamaica attended by bishops representing all nineteen Catholic dioceses of the region as well as the independent mission of Cayman Islands.
Membership of Caritas Antilles currently comprises the dioceses of the islands of Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Lucia and Bermuda, with headquarters in Castries, St. Lucia.
Caritas Antilles whose current President is Archbishop Robert Rivas of Castries has a special concern for the poor and marginalised, including a range of programmes such as preparing people for natural disasters, sanitation, agriculture and fisheries. Their work aims to empower and enable the poorest of the poor to escape poverty through sustainable economic development. It is affiliated to Caritas International, the world’s largest Catholic development and emergency relief agency.
In his address to the AEC bishops, Cardinal Kelvin Felix, a former President of Caritas Antilles urged dioceses to greater involvement in Caritas Antilles, echoing the message brought to the bishop by the Papal Nuncio from Pope Francis recommending that they pay “a very special attention to the poor and voiceless of this Region.”
The working sessions of the APM were preceded by the Opening Mass at the Cathedral of St. Paul of the Cross of Mandeville, at which the Chief Celebrant and homilist was Cardinal Kelvin Felix, and by a retreat and Study Day on the Theme of Reconciliation led by expert in this field, Fr. Robert Schreiter.
In his address AEC President Archbishop Patrick Pinder of Nassau challenged the bishops to apply the ideas shared by Fr. Schreiter “regarding reconciliation, justice and forgiveness, given the challenges facing our peoples in regarding violence, crime, and family dysfunction in our ministry of leading the Church and building up the people of God.”
Archbishop Pinder noted the significant progress made in the year since the AEC established its Biblical Animation of all Pastoral Life (ABP) programme led by y Bishop Emmanuel Lafont. “The Committee sponsored a special encounter for 19 dioceses as well as the Cayman Islands in Trinidad, this past January 20-21. The delegates pledged to develop the practice of study and prayer using the Bible in their home dioceses. The AEC has just ordered 19,000 Bibles for distribution across the region,” he noted
The AEC president also hailed Pope Francis appointment of the region’s first Cardinal as “a great honour to a long serving member of our Episcopal Conference. It also, through Kelvin Cardinal Felix brings honour to the Church in our region. We are all deeply appreciative and grateful.”
In his address to the AEC Archbishop Girasoli stressed the message of Pope Francis that “the Church is called to be the house of the Father with doors wide open” (Evangelii Gaudium 47).
"Pope Francis,” he noted, “has reached the hearts of all. Many who left our Church in the past or many of those who felt on the ‘borders’ of the Church are becoming aware that ‘No one is excluded from the vineyard of the Lord.’”
Also addressing the bishops was Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami Florida who is a board member of the US Bishops Church in Latin America and the Caribbean (CLA) Programme. Archbishop Wenski noted that the programme had supported evangelization and development programmes in AEC territories with US$280,000 over the past 5 years and he pledged continued support and cooperation with the region that has contributed much through immigrants to the development of the US.
The AEC bishops passed a resolution declaring that “Transparency in fiscal management become the norm in all AEC Arch/Dioceses and that audited Arch/Diocesan Accounts be published annually.” They noted that audits of the accounts of the AEC itself have been produced for many years and that summaries will now be published annually on the AEC website.
Among the resolutions approved by the APM were the following:
All Arch/Dioceses will publish the revised and approved AEC Norms for dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests and Deacons as well as the specific diocesan implementation procedures for the Norms
The AEC Catechetics and Doctrine Commissions will take the responsibility of providing catechists and schools with age appropriate catechesis regarding the Statement from the AEC on Marriage. (Statement on Marriage attached separately)
The APM approved the theme, sub-theme and date for the Fifth Antilles Episcopal Conference Youth Assembly (V AECYA) to be held in the Diocese of St. John’s-Basseterre 12-19 July 2015 . The theme is: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Mt. 5:8). The sub-theme is: Family Life in the Caribbean and its implication for Youth and Young Adults.
All Arch/Dioceses of the AEC will appoint an ecumenical officer who may also be the officer for Inter-Religious Dialogue and will collaborate with the Commission for Ecumenism currently headed by Bishop Kenneth Richards of St. John’s/Basseterre. Bishop Robert Llanos was also appointed AEC Liaison for Inter Religious organizations and initiatives.
The Commission on Justice and Peace presented a preliminary statement to the APM on the worsening scourge of Violence against Women and Domestic Violence in the region and will present a revised draft to the next Permanent Board meeting of the AEC.
All Arch/Dioceses will appoint a person with responsibility for Communications who will facilitate teleconferencing as an effective and economical way of increasing communication between Commissions, Committees, individuals and organizations within the AEC and who will also represent the Arch/Diocese on SIGNIS Caribbean, the regional Catholic Communication s network. (A session with young adults during the APM on the internet technology saw all bishops become familiar with participating in the AEC Web conference facility. Msgr. Paul Tighe, Secretary of the Vatican Council for Social Communications also engaged the Bishops and AEC communicators across the region in a fruitful web conference session on “Theological criteria in developing a culturally appropriate strategy for Church communications for the New Evangelization.”)
All AEC Commissions as well as Arch/Dioceses will be equipped with working WEBEX software, related hardware and trained personnel to utilize the AEC web conference facility by December 2014.
Elections and Appointment
Archbishop Patrick Pinder of Nassau Bahamas was re-elected by the bishops for a second 3 year term as the President of the AEC. Bishop Francis Alleyne of Georgetown was also re-elected as Vice President and Bishop Neil Tiedemann as Treasurer.
Fr. John Persaud has been appointed by the Bishops of the Antilles as General Secretary of the Antilles Episcopal Conference to take up the post when the current General Secretary leaves the post in November 2014. The bishops expressed their thanks to Deacon Mike James who has held the post for the past seven years and to his wife Maria Diaz-James who has served as a volunteer with the AEC during the period. They also expressed grateful thanks to APM host Bishop Neil Tiedemann and to his tireless and hospitable team of religious sisters and others for the successful meeting arrangements.
Can a prayer be inspired by a battle?
Pope Leo XIII (pictured at right) wrote
the Saint Michael prayer, printed below,
in 1884, after supposedly seeing a frightening vision: evil spirits, trying to fulfill Satan’s boast to destroy our Lord’s Church within a century, were engaging in fierce attacks against it.
Although the Pontiff also saw St. Michael casting Satan (also known as the devil) and his demons back into Hell in his vision, he was so horrified by what he had seen he felt compelled to help defend our faith in this struggle.
In the Saint Michael prayer he throws down the gauntlet to “the father of lies” as Jesus calls the devil in John’s Gospel (8:44), by enlisting the help of a very special Archangel:
Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host,
by the Divine Power of God,
cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits
who wander throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.
St. Michael makes a great general in this fight between Christ and Satan for our souls! After all, we read in Revelation (12:7-9) that “there was a great battle in heaven; Michael and his angels fought with the dragon...and that great dragon...who is called the devil and Satan, who seduces the whole world...was cast unto the earth, and his angels [the demons] were thrown down with him.”
St. Michael’s very name (in Hebrew, Micha’el meaning “Who is like to God?”) denotes the war cry uttered in that battle. Note that when we talk about Satan or the devil here we are also referring to his “army” of fallen angels, the evil spirits referred to in the Saint Michael prayer.
As a special patron and protector of the Church, St. Michael has been assigned to fight against Satan; to protect faithful souls from him, especially at their death; to champion God’s people; and, further along this line, to escort them to their judgment.
Pope Leo XIII saw to it that the Saint Michael prayer was recited after every low Mass throughout the world. (The low Mass, discontinued in 1970 after Vatican II, was said by a priest alone, with no music.) This prayer is not said at Mass today, but in 1994 Pope John Paul II urged the faithful keep to reciting it.
Although we tend to downplay the notion of the devil as being too quaint or outmoded today, he does indeed exist and not just as a symbol of evil, or as character in a fairytale to frighten us.
We obviously can’t excuse all our sins and failures by saying, as the comedian Flip Wilson did in a line he made famous, “The devil made me do it!” After all, God allows us to be tempted but gives us the grace and the free will to choose Him and not the devil.
Still, we shouldn’t assume the devil is just some cartoon figure. Priests such as Father Malachi Martin and Father Gabriele Amorth have written extensively of their struggles with demons during exorcisms.
One of Satan’s greatest assets is his camouflage, the belief that he doesn’t exist, as Father Martin once noted in his acclaimed book Hostage to the Devil. Father Martin felt strongly that disbelief in Satan and the forces of evil leaves us unable to resist them.
On the subject of resistance, keep in mind that we can and should say
the Saint Michael prayer at church or just on our own during the day for spiritual protection for ourselves and for others as well!
Satan was unable to destroy the Catholic Church in the 20th century, but certainly our faith withstood terrible onslaughts just from Hitler and Stalin alone. We are still engaged in that war that has gone for all of human history, in one form or another, between God and the devil.
Each of us has had our own battles against the dark side trying to turn us away from eternal life with our Creator. Satan’s idea for our eternal life is one spent with him in hatred and misery and he’s after as many souls as he can get!
As St. Peter once noted “be sober and watch, because your adversary the devil as a roaring lion, goes about seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). “The evil spirits who roam about the world seeking the ruin of souls” mentioned in the Saint Michael prayer have surely been busy, but in asking for help we can fight back against them every day.
Prayer and the sacraments are an essential part of what St. Paul called the “armor of God” in his letter to the Ephesians. The Saint Michael
prayer can help us indeed “stand against the deceits of the devil" (Eph 6:11) by “taking the shield of faith” (Eph 6:16). Remember, God permits us to be tempted by the devil but gives us the grace to resist him through prayer in our daily lives.
Let us not be afraid to ask for St. Michael’s help in this prayer and others listed here like it. We need to remember that each time we pray we work to defeat our real enemies, not each other, but rather the devil and his evil spirits.
As St. Paul put it, we fight “not against flesh and blood but against principalities and power, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness” (Eph 6:12). With God’s help in prayer they can all be overcome.