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Pope visits Catholic minority in Jamaica.

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. Richard Albert, of the Bronx, N.Y., who was transferred to Jamaica 18 years ago and later joined the Kingston archdiocese. Of Jamaica's 2.3 million citizens, 150,000 are Roman Catholic.

"The pope's visit demonstrated that we run the finest schools on the island, that we take care of the poorest of the poor, and that we are leaders in the ecumenical movement," said Albert.

"(Kingston) Archbishop (Samuel) Carter was the founder of the Caribbean Council of Churches in the early 1970s and, believe me, he was not a popular man in Rome at that time. We've always worked hard on ecumenicalism," said Albert. Carter was the first Jamaican bishop. He will retire next year after leading the archdiocese since 1970.

It is these three aspects of Jamaican Catholicism -- education, assistance to the poor and support of ecumenism -- that, despite the minority position Catholicism holds among Jamaica's religious, gives the church a special role.

In the outcry following scandal-filled national elections held March 30, Carter and Albert played leading roles in public forums held to discuss electoral reform.

The pope, meanwhile, also met with Prime Minister P.J. Patteron's People's National Party, as well as with the titular head of state -- and Queen Elizabeth II's representative on the island -- Governor General Sir Howard Cooke.

Edward Seaga of the Jamaica Labor Party also met with John Paul II. During his audience, Seaga, a former prime minister, played a cassette of tunes sung by the late Jamaican reggae music megastar and advocate of peace, Bob Marley.

Rastafarians deify late Ethiopian emperor, Haile Selassie, and blame the papacy for the slave trade, wrote Fr. Joseph Owens in his book Dread, the title referring to the Rastafarian dreadlock hairstyle. A large billboard announcing the pope's Jamaica visit was placed by the Catholic church near a busy Kingston intersection. Not to be outdone, Rastas placed a sign 20 yards from the pope's billboard honoring the 100th birthday of Selassie, who made a state visit to Jamaica in 1966 and received a hero's welcome. Another billboard advertising the papal visit as defaced when vandals painted a handgun into the pope's hand. The sign was repainted before the pope arrived.
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Title Annotation:Papal Visit
Author:Slavin, J.P.
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Aug 27, 1993
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