Sixteen bishops and archbishops who head the Roman Catholic Church in the English, French and Dutch-speaking Caribbean countries will be in Guyana from April 21 to April 27, for their Annual General Meeting.
The group, known as the Antilles Episcopal Conference (AEC), will be joined by the Papal Representative to the Antilles Region based in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, Italian Archbishop Nicola Girasoli, a press release from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Georgetown said.
This will be the third time in its 64-year history that the AEC will meet in Guyana. The Church in Guyana first hosted a meeting of the group in 1974 and a much shorter one in 1977, the release said.
The AGM will be inaugurated with a Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception at 4pm on Sunday. Also, following an old tradition, the most recently ordained bishop in the AEC, Bishop Kenneth Richards, of St John’s, Antigua and Basseterre, St Kitts will deliver the homily. The meeting will also welcome two other recently appointed bishops: Archbishop Joseph Harris of Port-of-Spain and Bishop Jason Gordon of Bridgetown, Barbados and Kingstown, St Vincent. With these appointments and the imminent ordination of an auxiliary bishop in Belize, only one of the 19 dioceses in the AEC does not have a bishop resident in the territory, the release said.
According to the release, the programme will also include an inaugural Mass that will be preceded by a retreat on Bishops’ Spirituality and followed by a Study Day on Collegiality and Cooperation among bishops. Both the retreat and the study will be led by US Emeritus Archbishop of New Orleans Alfred Hughes.
On Monday, the President of the Bishops’ Conference Archbishop Patrick Pinder of The Bahamas and Bishop Francis Alleyne will pay a courtesy call on President Donald Ramotar, while Archbishop Girasoli will present his diplomatic credentials as a Vatican Representative to the Government of Guyana on the same day. Also, the same afternoon there will be a meeting of the bishops with the local church leadership and diocesan organisation representatives at the St Paul’s Pastoral Centre at Better Hope, East Coast Demerara.
The working sessions of the bishops will also include a review of plans by the AEC to sponsor the training of a Caribbean team of psychologists, social workers and counsellors in June in Trinidad to help in the church’s response to trauma to victims of frequent natural and other national and regional disasters such as floods, hurricanes and earthquakes. This one-week training seminar will be directed by a top international expert in the field of Trauma Response.
The agenda also includes “a review of the region-wide programme for the protection of God’s Children from sexual abuse through ongoing and in-depth training and motivation of all church personnel working with children through the Virtus Programme,” the release said.
The bishops will also finalise plans for the AEC Youth Assembly in St Lucia from July 19 to 29, which more than 1,000 Catholic youth from across the region are expected to attend. This will be immediately followed by a training seminar for Diocesan Vocations Directors and other Vocations promoters from across the region in Castries, St Lucia from July 30 to August 3, which will give attention to the challenges posed by the sharp reduction in vocations to the priesthood and religious life; address creative responses to training vocations promoters and give greater witness of unity and enthusiasm by Catholics, clergy and laity in attracting vocations to the service of Christ in the people of the region.