PHOTO | BRENDA CASPER
The Holy Trinity team and Hayes Pastor Fr. Francis Dupuis enjoy a meal at the mission house.
Jamaica is known for its sunny beaches and tourist resorts, making it a common vacation destination. A few parishioners from Holy Trinity Parish in Spruce Grove and Stony Plain view the Caribbean country much differently.
Next to Haiti, Jamaica is the poorest nation in the western hemisphere. Of its three main areas — Mandeville, Montego Bay and Kingston — Mandeville is the most impoverished.
Deacon Pat Hessel and eight other parishioners returned from a weeklong mission to Jamaica on April 15. This was Hessel’s fourth trip there, reinforcing his role as a deacon who cares about helping others and actively seeking social justice.
The relationship between the parish and the Jamaicans goes both ways. While the Canadians help build homes, repair an orphanage or supply meals at a school, the Jamaicans show their gratitude by praying for Holy Trinity parishioners facing health problems.
In determining whether to help rid poverty in Jamaica by sending money or developing relationships, it’s clear that Hessel favours the latter.
“Father Paul Terrio was clear from the outset that if this is just about us sending money, he’s not interested,” said Hessel. The focus is on building a “good, close, productive relationship” with the Jamaicans.
In agreement is Brenda Caspar, who has travelled to Mandeville seven times. She enjoys making contact with the local people and establishing new friendships.
“Right now I feel it’s a calling of mine. Father Paul said that he always wanted to have a relationship with Jamaica, more than just sending money down and basically forgetting about these people. I like working towards cementing that relationship.”
Many of the residents are poor, doing whatever they can for work, such as selling homemade products at roadside stands. For the parish’s mission team, guilt sets in for those who stay in luxurious hotels after witnessing the poverty there.
“I don’t think I could stay at one of those fancy, five-star resorts knowing what I know and seeing what I have seen. It’s a completely different Jamaica,” said Caspar, noting the stark contrast between the large dwellings built near rundown shanties.
“The rich don’t want anything to do with the poor, and there is very little of a middle class in Jamaica, from what I can tell. They don’t have the safety nets like we have, our social programs,” she said.
In January 2005, Caspar attended an information session at Holy Trinity Parish about the Jamaica mission. Since she works as a travel agent, she decided that this was a good ministry for her.
“We have had at least one team per year from Holy Trinity and one year we had three teams. The last couple of years we’ve been sending two teams down,” said Caspar.
Up to 11 people go each time. The base camp is Mandeville, a town in south central Jamaica, near the Don Figuerero Mountains. The last few years the parish has sponsored projects there — a food bank, school and orphanage — in conjunction with its sister parish in Hayes, Jamaica.
Annunciation Basic School serves about 200 students. The parents of at least 50 children cannot afford tuition and meals. The parish mission team provides a hot meal for the students, and for many of them, it’s their only meal of the day.
“We’ve been trying these past few years to work with these people, and it’s all in the Mandeville-Hayes area,” said Caspar. “We do whatever needs to be done. We’ve painted the school, we’ve painted the church, built houses, done tiling at the orphanage, and whatever else needs doing when we’re down there.”
Caspar became a godmother on her most recent visit in March. A Jamaican woman asked Caspar if she would be the godmother of her great nephew.
“Our parish has now got a godson, the way I look at it. This is one more thing that cements that relationship with our sister parish,” she said.