A Missionary Looks at Jamaica

by Bishop Paul Boyle, C.P. cover

When I tell people I'm a missionary in Jamaica, they say, "Oh, how wonderful that must be, living by those beautiful beaches, in that beautiful country." Yes, Jamaica really is a beautiful land. But our diocese of Mandeville, in the interior of the country, offers another side of Jamaica. right: Bishop Boyle

We have dire poverty. It's something the tourists don't see, nor do the television ads feature. Our people are poor. Jamaica is the poorest nation in the hemisphere after Haiti, and our diocese is the poorest part of Jamaica. We have five hundred thousand people in our diocese. Sixty-eight percent have no running water, only outdoor latrines. We have people who need food, shoes, clothing, mattresses for their beds.

Answering the Needs

I'm sometimes asked what is the most pressing need in our diocese and honestly I'm hard-pressed to answer that question, because there are so many needs and they all pull at your heart-strings. At times, I think I respond to the last one who asks. But let me tell you some of the things we are trying to do.

Housing for the Poor

For one thing, we are trying to provide housing for the people who need it. Some are completely homeless; others are living in tiny places the size of a one-car garage. Their little shacks, usually made of zinc, have dirt floors. When the temperature is 90 or 92 degrees, you can see the steam rising from them. right: at the dump

With the help of an organization called "Food for the Poor," based in the U.S., we get lumber and zinc to build small houses (12 by 20 feet) for the poor. They have no electricity, no running water, but they are paradise for people who either have had nothing, or only a shack for a home. Presently, we are trying to build 30 new houses a month.

Care for the Elderly and Abandoned

Another pressing need is care of the elderly and abandoned. We have a home for 75 elderly and abandoned who are given loving care by Mother Teresa's Sisters. It's beautiful to see the love the Sisters have for their charges. We need a few more such homes for the indigent.

Besides the elderly, there are the children. Our Jamaican people love children and, thanks be to God, we have relatively few abortions. But they have lots of children. A mother with six or seven children and no husband may be forced to let one of her children go, usually the youngest, and she will abandon the child at the doorstep of a church, a hospital, or police station. right: Jamaican Children with Bishop Boyle

We have two orphanages. St. John Bosco, conducted by the Sisters of Mercy, is for older boys from 7 to 18 and has an enrollment of 150 boys. The second orphanage, Our Lady of Hope in Black River -- just started recently by the Daughters of Mary -- is for children of a very young age who grow in a family atmosphere created by sisters, priests and volunteers. There are 12 children there now.

Education

We have 16 schools altogether. Most of them are basic schools for young children. We have two high schools and are getting ready to establish another. Schools can change children's lives by helping them to be better educated and so make a contribution to our Jamaican society. The church has always believed in the power of education to break the cycle of poverty.

We have established a college for teacher training; it's the first step toward a wider goal of educating people in technology and theology. Who knows, maybe we can build a Catholic University here in our diocese?

Hope Outreach Center

Our plans are to create a center here in Mandeville to serve the people. It will have a distribution office for donated goods, a housing center for building homes, and the Catholic College of Mandeville.

Our diocese has been blessed with many volunteers. Mostly they hear of us by word of mouth. We have dedicated priests, deacons, sisters, brothers and lay people from 27 different nations who staff our parishes and institutions. Most of the clergy and religious have committed themselves to serve here for life. The lay missionaries come for a minimum of two years but many have been here for five or seven years.

Gifts From the Poor

Obviously, we need support. I'm trying to appeal to corporations -- particularly those who have business relations with Jamaica -- for help. We are not proselytizing. We are not trying to make people Catholic. All the poor are God's children and our purpose is to reach out to them without consideration of religious belief or lack of religious belief.

I believe we learn how to live and how to pray from the poor. "Food for the Poor" sponsors a book called "All You Need to Know About Praying You Learn From the Poor." That's true in a lot of ways. We learn generosity and trust in God from the poor who, despite their poverty, give us more than we give them. right: Sr Kathleen Mary Burke, C.P. with a resident of Manchester Infirmary

Jamaicans are generous; the poor are generous. Let me tell you a story that illustrates what I mean.

One of our priests came back to his rectory one day. A boy was there weeping. He asked the priest to come home with him because his mother was crying, threatening to kill the children and herself.

The priest went home with the boy and found they had been three days without anything to eat. The mother said she thought it would be better to put her children out of their misery as well as herself. The priest told them to wait. He went back to his rectory, got a brown paper bag of rice and beans and gave the bag to the mother.

There was great rejoicing and laughing. The priest was a singer and started to sing a couple of songs with them.

But suddenly, he noticed that the mother was gone. She knew another family down the road suffering from the same conditions, and had gone to give them a part of her rice.

Now that's typical of the way a lot of Jamaicans share. Share the gifts that God gave you. They are given to you for your brothers and sisters. My people in Jamaica are your brothers and sisters. Could you share something with them?


Pope John Paul II appointed Paul Boyle, C.P. as Vicar Apostalic on April 15, 1991 and appointed him first Bishop of Mandeville, Jamaica on November 21, 1997. Bishop Boyle served his retirement at age 78 in 2004, when he became Bishop Emeritus. He died on January 10, 2008.