Caribbean theology conference covered the environment and climate change

jordensA post by Peter Jordens.

Curaçao-based Nobo reports that the 19th Conference of Theology in the Caribbean recently took place in Suriname. The Conference saw the participation of 30 persons, among whom were theologians, bishops, priests, religious sisters, pastoral workers, catechists, teachers, and other faithful. They represented Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, the USA, Jamaica, Dominica, St Lucia, Barbados, Grenada, French Guiana, Curaçao, and the Netherlands.

The Conference started with Holy Mass in the Cathedral Basilica of Paramaribo, with Msgr Karel Choennie, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Paramaribo, as chief celebrant. The theme of this 19th Conference focused on the environment and climate change, with special attention to the environmental Encyclical of Pope Francis titled Laudato Si’ (2015) as well as to the category 4 and 5 hurricanes that swept the Caribbean region in 2017.

Msgr Esteban Kross, Vicar General of the RC Diocese of Paramaribo, provided a profound theological and ecclesiological analysis of Laudato Si’. Adanna James, a doctoral candidate in Theology from Trinidad and Tobago, elaborated on the harmonious connection between God, humans, and Nature which Pope Francis underscores. Peter Jordens from Curaçao argued that the two Creation narratives in Genesis chapters 1-3 can serve as pertinent inspiration for Christian environmentalism.

Both Clyde Harvey, Bishop of the RC Diocese of St George’s (Grenada), and Father Donald Chambers of the RC Diocese of Kingston (Jamaica) emphasized that after a hurricane, there should be not only reconstruction of infrastructure, but also renewal of humanity and society, inspired by the Gospel. They also said that the Church must play a more important role in helping persons and communities recover and renew in the aftermath of natural and human-made disasters.

Reverend Sonia Hinds from the Anglican Diocese of Barbados explained that the protection of all life on our planet, as part of God’s Creation, is a key principle of the Anglican Church. She called upon the Church to listen more closely to women and laity in developing its environmental actions. Gerald Boodoo, from Duquesne University in the USA, expounded the rather different way in which Indigenous (Amerindian) peoples think about space and ecology and argued that they should be involved more in discussions on the environment and climate change.

Anna Perkins from Jamaica and Rose-Ann Walker from Trinidad and Tobago examined how the musicians and poets of our region reflect upon Nature and hurricanes in their songs and poems. Perkins and Walker proposed that these artistic works could help the people of the Caribbean to mentally and spiritually process the suffering caused by hurricanes.

Bernardo Bahlmann, Bishop of the RC Diocese of Óbidos in Brazil, said, while quoting Pope Francis, that the environmental crisis is also a social crisis and that a concerted and integrated solution is required. He talked about some of the social-environmental projects that his Diocese, which is located in the Amazon rainforest, is undertaking.

A special guest of the Conference was Honorable Roosevelt Skerrit, Prime Minister of Dominica, a Caribbean island destroyed by Hurricane Maria in September, last. Prime Minister Skerrit explained how his country is recovering and rebuilding and is trying to prepare for future natural disasters. Dominica’s quite innovative and ambitious intention is to become the first nation in the world that is ‘climate-resilient’, i.e. that maintains a sound balance between humans and nature and that has the capacity to adapt optimally to the effects of climate change, such as stronger hurricanes and rising sea-levels.

Other presentations at the Conference dealt with, among other issues, the challenges posed by the discovery of oil in Guyana, the legacies of two illustrious Caribbean theologians, and the contemplative method of lectio divina.

Finally, the Conference paid tribute to Anthony Dickson, Bishop Emeritus of the RC Diocese of Bridgetown (Barbados), as a pioneer of the Catholic Church in the Caribbean in terms of defending the environment.

In summary, it can be said that the variety of presentations during the Conference challenged the participants to think in new ways about Creation, the environment, and natural disasters. One message that emerged from the Conference was that amidst destruction and pain, the Caribbean region can draw upon the power of the Gospel as well as the resilience, creativity, and solidarity of its own people.

The original news article (in Papiamentu) appeared on page 13 of the July 7, 2018 print edition of the Curaçaoan daily newspaper Nobo.

[The photo shows some of the Conference participants standing in front of the Paramaribo RC Bishop’s House.]


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