Life in Jamaica: A Personal Reflection

Kingston, Jamaica. In June 2001, Reverend Len Brown, C.M.F., Claretian Provincial of the Eastern U.S.A. Province, officially presented me to the province membership to serve in the Archdiocese of Kingston, Jamaica for at least a three-year period of time. Placed around my neck was a special mission cross. I was to be joined by two other members of my province, Reverend Tom McGann C.M.F. and Reverend Tom Joyce C.M.F. as well as Claretian priest, Fr. Christopher Udeani, C.M.F., from Nigeria, Africa.

The three priests with whom I serve arrived in Jamaica August 16, 2001, and I arrived September 21, 2001. Prior to this time, I served for 11 years as a campus minister in Springfield, Missouri with college students associated with Catholic Campus Ministry. I participated in the Dedication of a new Catholic Student Center shortly before leaving for my new mission in Jamaica.
I have found that there are many churches in Kingston. They include not only Roman Catholic but also Methodist, Anglican, Baptist, and Pentecostal. There is also a group called Rastafarianism. Others refer to them as Rastas. A true Rastafarian does not eat meat, wears long hair and some believe in Jesus Christ. The long hair is to remind others that they are likened to the person of Jesus Christ who they believe is a great prophet. Their God is Hessilossi, a man and the 225th grandson of King David, who died in Ethiopia. Just as the Rastas believe that King David, a Nazarene, did not use scissors and combs neither do the Rastas use scissors and combs. The different churches influence one another.

Recently, the four of us Claretians were invited to attend an event sponsored by a local Open Bible Church. I was not able to attend, but Fr. Tom McGann C.M.F., pastor of the two churches we serve, did attend the Dedication of a new building. The previous Catholic Archbishop Emeritus, Most Reverend Samuel Carter, was truly ecumenical. Catholics and non- Catholics were present at his recent funeral. He truly reached out to his non-Catholic brothers and sisters. It has been edifying for me to see the ecumenical spirit among the Jamaican people.

Since becoming a Claretian Missionary Brother in 1985, I have never regretted serving wherever I have been sent. While in Jamaica, various people have asked me why I am not a priest. I continue to learn over the years that God has a mission for me as a brother. My mission is to be the best Claretian Brother wherever I am. For me, the word ‘presence’ means so much. No matter where I am serving I have learned that I receive and share God’s presence! Keeping this in mind gives me the strength to realize my call no matter what obstacles I face. Serving as a Claretian Brother has been and is very rewarding. I can go to bed at night knowing that I have done my best. As a Claretian Brother I have the opportunity and flexibility to serve where the needs are greatest.

I currently serve the youth in both of our Jamaican Claretian parishes, St. John the Baptist and Our Lady of the Angels. I assisted for one week this summer at a youth camp on the north coast! Yes, I got to go swimming in the Caribbean during the week. I was on the staff of the Christ in Others (COR) Retreat for youth between the ages of 16 and 21. I helped organize a Bible Quiz for our youth in three of the parishes in our deanery (our two parishes and one other). Each of the three Claretian priests and I have taught Catholic religion in both Catholic schools connected with our two parishes. I had never taught Kindergarten, 1st, 2nd, or 4th graders until this past year. They were a handful but I persevered.

I have also served as a religious brother meeting the needs of the poor, leading worship services, and making it possible for the citizens of Jamaica to have free and fair elections. I continue to appreciate what I have been given by my parents and teachers over the years, a good education! One day, not too long ago, a young man in his early 40’s came to the front door of the rectory. His first name is Mark. He had been laid off from his work in the food and beverage industry, a large part of the economy of the island. As many of you know, last year September 11, changed many people’s lives. Mark was one of those affected by the tragedy.

Mark has two daughters, ages 11 and 17 who were in need of getting help to attend school. The older daughter would be going to college while the younger child would be in first forum (about 7th grade in the States). I contacted the school where the younger girl was attending to see how I could help. With the help of a friend’s financial contribution I was able to assist the younger daughter to get the rest of her books and have money to pay for lunches.

There are great needs here in Jamaica. I am grateful for what I have experienced thus far. Only God knows what lies in store for me as I continue to be of service to God’s people.

Thomas Haerle C.M.F.

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