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Nuns serve poor on other side of 'paradise.' (Religious Orders - Mercy Sisters in Jamaica)

Meat farm, bakery support work in Jamaica

WASHINGTON - Travel brochures lure tourists to "escape to a heavenly paradise, the elegant atmosphere that is uniquely Jamaica." But there are two faces to this popular island in the Caribbean.

Kingston, Jamaica's seaport capital, is a mecca for visitors that caters to U.S. tourists, offering veranda suites, tower hotels, villas - all carefully protected playgrounds for the rich on beautiful beaches.

Mercy Sister Patricia McCann tells of the other Kingston, "a city of crippling poverty, a visible example of the effects of the First World's affluence and power on Third World quality of life." The Mercy Sisters first put foot on Jamaican soil Dec. 12, 1890, when three arrived from England.

They were asked to educate and visit the poor islanders, a work started 10 years before by three valiant Jamaican laywomen. The ministry grew, and in 1953 the sisters were designated part of the Mercy Province of Cincinnati; the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas now have 7,400 U.S. members.

McCann talked of the other Jamaican economy, the one that is crumbling as more and more people live in destitute conditions in the cardboard and corrugated-tin shanty towns that stretch for miles and miles in Kingston.

So bad is the economy that the 50 Mercy Sisters ministering in Jamaica must invent ways to support their ministries with the poor - especially the orphaned children, the homeless and delinquent youth. Neither public funding nor private donations provide enough money. McCann tells of two Mercy sisters who built profitable businesses that contribute substantial support to the ministry:

* Susan Frazer, 43, a Mercy from Cincinnati, has spent 14 years in Jamaica. As director of St. John Bosco Children's Home, Frazer faced enormous financial problems. Building on management expertise she had developed as a social worker and administrator, Frazer began a meat farm with two piglets. Today the farm has more than 300 pigs, a large herd of cows, goats and more.

The farm, with a slaughterhouse and meat-processing plant, has become a trade training center not only for the court-referred and abandoned boys at St. John Bosco school in the interior of Jamaica but for the Caribbean area. It provides meat to some of the finest restaurants in Kingston. "We aim for the top of the market." said Frazer, "We make more for the school that way."

* Mercy Sister Benedict Chung, 40, directs a school for more than 1,400 young children in the most poverty-stricken, crime-ridden area of west Kingston. To establish herself initially in the neighborhood, Chung had to confront the drug dealers in a manner that would not threaten her ministry with the children. She succeeded. Anyone threatened on the streets of west Kingston has just to mention Chung's name to be safe.

To support the school, where Chung also provides meals to more than 1,000 children, she founded a bakery operated by neighborhood men to supply local retailers. She established a trade center that trains women to work in the garment industry and a catering service for the Kingston business community.

"You have to be business-oriented to survive," said Chung. "If you don't fend for yourself, no one else will."

When Catherine McAuley founded the Sisters of Mercy in Dublin, in 1831, she told them to "speak as your mind directs and always act with courage." Mercy sisters who minister in Jamaica's inner cities are doing just that.
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Author:Vidulich, Dorothy
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Feb 19, 1993
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