Pope Visits Catholic Minority in Jamaica

Article excerpt

KINGSTON, Jamaica -- During a smooth three-day state visit to this predominantly Protestant Caribbean nation, Pope John Paul II addressed a concern shared by Jamaican intellectuals and the island's African-nationalist Rastafarians: the church's role in the colonial slave trade. As he did in the African nation of Senegal last year, the bishop of Rome apologized for the role Roman Catholicism played in assisting the slave trade to the Americas.

At a welcoming ceremony at Norman Manley International Airport Aug. 9, the pope referred to "the tragic enslavement of millions of African men, women and children," and said, "The immensity of their suffering corresponds to the enormity of the crime committed against them."

At a joyous outdoor Mass the following day at Jamaica's National Stadium, the pope continued with his message by saying that the mentality that created slavery persists today in the destruction of family values.

"Slavery stole men away from their wives, wives were left alone with the burden of raising children, and children were deprived of the presence of their fathers," he said. "The tragic fruits of this evil system are still present in attitudes of sexual irresponsibility."

Unlike other papal visits to neighboring -- and overwhelmingly Catholic -- Carribean and Latin American nations, the pope's visit to Jamaica did not galvanize the country. Only about 7 percent of Jamaicans are Catholic. As in the United Kingdom, which also has a small Catholic population, some of Jamaica's most prominent -- and wealthiest -- citizens are Catholic, including rival hotel-chain titans John Issa and Butch Stewart.

"I am glad the pope came to Jamaica. I hope he enjoyed his stay. But I really view it as another visit to Jamaica by a head of state. That's it," said popular radio talk-show host Wilmont Perkins, echoing an opinion widely heard during the papal visit.

The trip was the first papal visit to Jamaica. The pope had planned to visit Kingston last year but canceled the trip for health reasons.

The pope's first stop in Kingston was to visit a Mother Teresa's Home for the Poor. Later events included a meeting with Jamaican Catholic youth and laity groups. The pope also held an ecumenical prayer meeting with representatives of more than 15 Christian groups.

"We didn't expect a big reaction because we're only 7 percent of the population," said Msgr. …