Seeking the lost sheep of Guyana
Fr Amar Bage SJ and Fr Marlon Innes SJ undertook the arduous trip to Matthew’s Ridge and Arakaka in North West Guyana. While at Matthew’s Ridge, they celebrated Mass in the primary school because the church building had collapsed. The small congregation of seven women, one man and a girl of seven years of age was increased when three local children were baptised.
“It is said that there was a large numbers of Catholics,” said Fr Amar. “Most of the time, the church was full and on feast days - like Christmas and New Year - there was no space in the church. But today all are scattered and lost. There could be many reasons. But one of them is: they were left like a sheep without a shepherd. They didn’t have a priest for almost seven to eight years. Old trained PLAs (parish lay assistants) and church leaders had died and the young generation was left with no training.”
Fr Amar also thinks that the population might have lost interest in religion. “Young and old, even children, are more interested in gold,” he says. “Matthew’s Ridge is a mining area. People are busy in the mines and have less interest in farming.”
However, he believes that the few faithful women and some men who have retained their faith continue to hope that the lost sheep will come back, because the shepherd is returning to look for them. “Yes, it was said that priests’ continuous and regular visits will bring back the people to the Catholic community again. Of course there are other denominations. But I was told: ‘Many people are not interested in going to other churches’, which means, I assume, that people like to belong to their Catholic community.”
At the mission in Arakaka – another mining community - the congregation for Mass was larger and the Jesuits were able to officiate at several baptisms.
“Both Matthew’s Ridge and Arakaka are very much mixed communities of Amerindians and coastlanders,” explains Fr Amar. “It was a joyful and fruitful mission journey that we could get back some faithful people who are interested in practicing the faith they have received. We came back with great hope that the number of Catholics will increase soon. They have primary schools, hospitals and police stations. But there is no air strip in Arakaka. It is now our responsibility to be with them in their needs, regularly.”
Photo: Port Kaituma, gateway to Matthew's Ridge in North West Guyana