Bishop opens St Ignatius Lethem

The new church of St Ignatius Lethem
The new church of St Ignatius Lethem

On Sunday 31 July, the Feast of St Ignatius,  Bishop Francis Alleyne OSB, Bishop of Georgetown, travelled to the Guyanese interior region of Rupununi in order to open and bless the new church of St Ignatius of Lethem. Over 600 people attended the ceremony, at which candidates received the Sacrament of Confirmation.

Fr James Conway SJ, co-ordinator of the interior apostolate, said “it was a great day”.

The Jesuits in Britain are responsible for the region of Guyana and have ministered to the indigenous people of the interior for over a century. To find out more about the Jesuits' ministry in Guyana and to support their work, visit Jesuit Missions.

The weekly Catholic newspaper in Guyana, The Catholic Standard, reported the event as follows:

The small Amerindian village of St Ignatius, Rupununi, almost doubled in size on Sunday 31 July, as Catholics from across Region 9 and further afield celebrated the opening and blessing of the new church.Parishioners process to the new church of St Ignatius in Lethem

Gleaming in hot, savannah sunshine, the uniquely round church, with its green ‘hat,’ welcomed Bishop Francis Alleyne OSB who, after blessing the church, celebrated a Mass of thanksgiving for the Feast of St Ignatius Loyola, the patron of the church, of the Jesuit mission in the Rupununi and of the village.

A tapestry of faith and witness

Jesuit missionaries came to these parts over a century ago. They wove a rich tapestry of Catholic faith and witness into the ancient indigenous traditions of the Wapishana, Macushi and Patamona people who today represent a good proportion of the Catholics in Guyana.

A fitting testimony then was last Sunday’s celebration, which started with a procession from the old church building to the new. Gathering young and old, the short walk signified the passing on of the faith from one place to another and from one generation to the next. A Church Elder and a young boy cut a ribbon that released the church door. Gently, they advanced into the circular space and were followed by 20 candidates “ready and willing” to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation.

A prayerful ambience

The circular building, resembling an Amerindian benab (a traditional shelter made of leaves and branches and supported on a framework of poles), is a break away from the usual rectangular and rather functional style of churches in the Rupununi. Although more difficult to construct, it is hoped that the effort will be worthwhile, creating a more prayerful ambience which gathers people around the altar and which is inclusive and welcoming.Interior of St Ignatius Lethem

The beautiful cross hanging above the sanctuary, carved by Lloyd Fredericks of Shulinab in wood taken from the local forest, portrays a risen Christ that is Amerindian and triumphant in appearance. Below it, a heavy altar – a slice of a huge tree that had fallen in the forest – now fittingly gives glory to God. St Ignatius, the patron of the church and mission, would certainly have approved. ‘All for the greater glory of God’ was engraved into his heart and on this, his feast day in the Rupununi, that sentiment and desire was echoed right across the savannah.