Our Franciscan outreach in Jamaica
The Lord is with Thee
On July 19, 2017, newly ordained Fr. Colin King joined fellow Franciscans Fr. Jim Bok, Br. Chris Meyer and Fr. Saleem Amir at our Jamaican mission, where together they are focusing on education and community building with ministries such as St. Anthony’s Kitchen and the Get Kids to School program. Fr. Colin and Fr. Jim primarily live and work in Negril, while Br. Chris and Fr. Saleem live in Savannah-la-Mar. Br. Chris works as the Communications Director for the Diocese of Montego Bay. Fr. Saleem is the pastor of parishes in Savannah-la-Mar and Orange Hill.
Even though Fr. Colin has only been pastor of two parishes on the island for a short time, he has already been a blessing to many. His witness and priestly presence recently prompted an unlikely person—a prostitute struggling to raise her baby—to privately seek out Fr. Colin and request that he baptize her son into the Catholic Church. Fr. Colin did so with much joy, noting that it was a powerful moment to have her child received into the Church.
“Just being present and approachable is so important,” Fr. Colin says, “as well as conveying mercy and steadfast compassion while walking with people on their unique journeys to meet God wherever they are. I’m so grateful this mother felt comfortable enough to come and talk to me.”
This includes sharing in the people’s joy as well as well as in their sorrow, as Fr. Colin points out. He has already presided at a funeral for a young mother of only 25 years old, who tragically died while giving birth to her second child.
“It’s very sad, and it’s been a very hard time for the family and for the community,” Fr. Colin says. “One of the most important things I can do for them is to be present and available.” In conjunction with their pastoral duties, the friars work to combat the many educational challenges students and families face in Jamaica with the Get Kids to School program.
“There are many obstacles for kids regarding school here, “says Fr. Colin. “These are fairly rural areas with families living in poverty. On the hills there is no natural water source and people have to collect rainwater and harvest it. We try to help parents and children however we can with uniforms, school supplies, food, and transportation.”
In spite of the many obstacles, both children and parents often show an inspiring amount of willpower and determination. One teenage student takes three taxis for a total travel time of one hour and a half just to get to school (not including the return trip). She’s doing well and she is one of the top performers in her class.
The friars make it a priority to support the schools directly as well. The schools are in urgent need of resources, as one doesn’t have electricity and there is no public transportation. Fr. Colin meets with the principals in his role as Chairman of the Board of three Catholic schools. In partnership with the schools, they are trying to find ways to offset food costs, allocate current resources, and find new resources.
In order to reach as many people as possible, the friars also teamed up with Food for the Poor, locating families within their parishes who need the most urgent help. One goal they share is to help families become self-sustainable so they can eventually support themselves. A recent project provided a family with chickens and helped them set up a coop.
Our friars are doing God’s work in Jamaica. Five days a week, the St. Anthony Kitchen provides breakfast to around 60 children each morning and lunch to about 110 adults every afternoon. The Get Kids to School program offers children hope for a brighter future by investing in their education. And each day, our friars bring faith, hope, and love to the people of one of the poorest countries in the Caribbean.