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Sunday December 23, 2007 CARIBBEAN CHURCH NEWS
Archbishop Reece presented
by Rev Peter Espeut

On Dec 12, Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Roman Catholic Church in Jamaica turned out in great numbers to witness the presentation of His Grace, the Most Reverend Donald James Reece, as the Co-adjutor Archbishop of Kingston.

After the Pope’s representative, Archbishop Thomas Gullickson, read the Papal Bull elevating the former Bishop of St John’s-Basseterre to his new office, the congregation inside Holy Trinity Cathedral erupted into thunderous applause, expressing profound approval.

Archbishop Reece was coming home. Born in Kingston in 1934, and ordained in the very same Cathedral in 1971, he served as chaplain to students on the UWI Mona Campus (1971-1981) and Rector of St. Michael’s Seminary (1973-1981).

In October 1981 he was ordained Bishop serving the Church in Antigua & Barbuda, St Kitts & Nevis, Montserrat, Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands. Now after 26 years he returned as successor to Archbishop Lawrence Burke SJ who asked the Holy Father for a co-adjutor because of ill-health.

In 2006 with much joy Bishop Reece’s Eastern Caribbean flock celebrated his Silver Jubilee with them. A strong delegation was present at Holy Trinity Cathedral to see their former Chief Shepherd presented to his new flock; the feelings must have been bittersweet.

Also witnessing the presentation were archbishops and bishops, priests and deacons, from the Antilles, one of the largest gatherings of Roman Catholic clergy seen in Jamaica in recent times. 

Also in attendance were the Governor-General of Jamaica, Prof. Sir Kenneth Hall; the Anglican Lord Bishop of Jamaica, the Right Rev Alfred Reid; and the Anglican Suffragan Bishop of Kingston, the Rt Rev. Robert Thompson.

The liturgy was lively and prayerful, with music from across the region. The first lesson was read by Hazel Keating, a longtime Jamaican friend of Archbishop Reece, and the second lesson was read by Ellis Southwell, representing the Antiguan contingent.

Deacon Clive Chambers proclaimed the Gospel and Deacon Peter Espeut announced the Prayers of the Faithful; both these Jamaican permanent deacons have Trinidadian wives, and many years previously, Bishop Reece had assisted at their weddings.

Archbishop Reece preached a powerful homily which he entitled “Hope, O My Soul, Hope!” a quote from St Teresa of Avila. He tied together the themes of Advent and Our Lady of Guadeloupe, and elements from his own Coat of Arms, publicly revealed for the first time. 

He exhorted: “Without this theological virtue of hope, we become paralysed and give up the struggle of salvation. The Apostle Paul admonishes the Christian community of Thessalonika: “Let us put on the breastplate of faith and charity, and for a helmet the hope of salvation [1 Thess. 5:8]. 

He also encouraged the community in Rome in these succinct words: “Have hope and be cheerful. Be patient in trials and pray constantly[Rom 12: 12].

Without hope we perish, we nurture no vision, and we dream no dreams. And yet, the very nature of human beings yearns not to perish, but to live, and to nurture visions and dream dreams.”

His chosen motto is “Your Kingdom Come”, embodying the hope of the ultimate triumph of the Kingdom values of truth, justice, peace and unity. Archbishop Reece believes we must work for the coming of the Kingdom:

Archbishop Burke and Archbishop Reece at the reception following his presentation Mass December 12
Archbishop Burke and Archbishop Reece at the reception following his presentation Mass December 12

“If we ought to be a people of faith entrusted with the task of fostering hope, just what might hinder us from becoming effective ministers of hope? 

Last May, 2007 when the Holy Father met with representatives of the Bishops Conferences of Latin America and the Caribbean (CELAM), he underscored very strongly the theme of that historic Fifth Conference, namely that followers of Christ are called not only to be disciples, but also to be missionaries.  One without the other is incomplete.

“I propose to all of us that in not accentuating the missionary aspect of our common Christian vocation—except when it applies to priest and Religious—we have been tempted to be led down the garden path of individualistic Christianity that is solely preoccupied with the salvation of one’s soul. When that happens, the mission given by Christ to ‘make disciples of all’ has been overlooked. Each Christian is called to mission by virtue of discipleship.”

Depicted on the shield of his coat-of-arms is the fire of the Holy Spirit hovering over a palm tree symbolising the old creation, and over the Blessed Virgin Mary symbolising the beginning of the new creation.

“Our Lady of Guadalupe, appearing at Tepeyac, Mexico as a pregnant indigenous Princess, shows herself, by God’s design, to be the harbinger of hope. Her pregnancy symbolises the Church who is to be always pregnant with Christ—through Word and sacrament—to bring hope to the world.

“It was to Juan Diego, a humble, illiterate peasant whose life was one of drudgery that Mary appeared. True to the spirit of the Magnificat, Mary’s song of praise, her message of hope was demonstrated in the fact that she chose such a humble indigenous peasant, to raise up the lowly.

It was such a one who was chosen to participate in the miraculous gathering of roses in the middle of winter, and to convince the hierarchy of a new chapter of hope for the oppressed. A hopeless situation was reversed, and the rest is history.

Ultimately under the banner of the Virgin of Guadalupe, a subjected people threw off the shackles of those who oppressed them for centuries, and hope was not only enkindled, but also set ablaze! To this day Our Lady of Guadalupe is hailed by Mexicans—be they Catholic or Protestant—as someone specially sent by God to bring hope into their lives.

“What meaning, what significance, does this feast have for us as we gather for this liturgy of Presentation? We live in a seemingly hopeless situation not only in Jamaica, but throughout the rest of the Caribbean. All is not well, that’s for sure! In the case of “Jamaica, land we love,” I had been following online the very sad socio-economic situation that has been highlighted by crime and especially the more than 1500 murders so far for 2007.

If we are not careful, we could become paralysed by that undesirable scenario. But it is precisely at such a critical time that Christians need to trust in a God who saves, in a God who can turn back the walls of the Red Sea, and who can change water into wine.

We need to ask ourselves the question: ‘Am I like Mary ready to risk my comfort zone existence to be the conduit through which God can act and thus bring about a Kairos moment, a moment of great possibility, out of a crisis?’ Am I like Mary a disciple of deep intimacy with the Lord, that I can say to Him, ‘I am the servant or handmaid of the Lord; let it be done according to your Word?’”

Archbishop Reece will succeed Archbishop Burke upon his retirement sometime next year; until then, he will take time to become familiar with the issues and challenges facing the Archdiocese of Kingston. Ad multos annos!

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