The Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers Mission Education and Promotion program sent 11 pilgrims on a week-long immersion trip to Montego Bay in April, posing the question, "Will you find God in Jamaica?"
Our humble group arrived at mid-day on April 29, most of us embarking on our first immersion trip of any kind, and having very little to no clue what to expect.
This much was clear from the outset: God is alive and well in Jamaica.
That was evident during a visit to Blessed Assurance, home to 33 boys and girls with a wide range of physical and mental challenges. It was evident at Jacob's Ladder, the adult version of Blessed Assurance (both locations are part of the Mustard Seed Communities program that serves more than "500 children, young adults and families"). And it was evident at Hope Hospice, where residents, mostly senior citizens, suffer from an array of illnesses.
Through each person we met and interacted with — including the unsung angels, the caregivers — we not only encountered God, we discovered our own disabilities and vulnerabilities. Far away from the comforts of home, we came away "bruised, hurting and dirty."
But here is something we didn't expect, something that caught us off guard: Despite the systematic breakdown of the family in Jamaica, the discouraging numbers among Catholics and the multitudes of dismayed and downtrodden in places like Blessed Assurance, there is no shortage of joy in Jamaica.
As "Auntie" Delta crooned inside that tiny church on the hill, "Once you walk with the Lord, there is joy!" Indeed, they walk with the Lord in Jamaica, even those whose steps are laborious, if not impossible.
"Henri Nouwen, wrote in "The Return of the Prodigal Son," "There, in the midst of the dreadful emptiness was complete joy. Death no longer was the enemy. Love was victorious."
It was so refreshing to see the priority that worship has on daily life in Jamaica, even in the "dreadful emptiness." In every word of praise, in every hymn, joy shone through. It was genuine and contagious.
At the Last Supper, Jesus said to the Apostles, "I have told you this so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete." (John 15:11)
Jamaica may lack many things but His joy is not one of them; there may be many unfinished things about Jamaica, but its joy is complete.
(Donald Marquez is a parishioner at Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Union City, and is currently attending Discernment Workshops for the Deacon Formation at the Diocese of Oakland.)
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