Thursday, June 13, 2024

Acts of Kindness in Antigua


St. John's, Antigua

Dear Parishioners,

As I write to you today, I am currently in a cruise ship in port at the island of St. Maarten/St. Martin. This island is one of a number of stops on our itinerary which included the Dominican Republic, Antigua, and Puerto Rico. I travel this trip with another priest and a married couple whom I have been friends with for many years.

In case you are curious, priests of our diocese are annually permitted four weeks of vacation, one week for a spiritual retreat and a week for continuing education. Most of the time I enjoy sun, sand and surf, whether it be at the Jersey shore or in some more exotic place.

I relate to you some incidents that happened to Fr. Bradley (my travelling companion) and me yesterday while in Antigua. While off the ship we searched for the nearest Catholic Church after first finding the local historic Episcopalian Cathedral. Since the Island is part of the British Commonwealth, there is a great presence of the Episcopalian church.  Not so much for the Catholic Church which is in the minority.

I stopped an elderly lady to ask her for the location of the nearby Catholic Church. She was kind enough to point out that it was up the hill. I further inquired if it was in walking distance and she said that it was. And so our journey continued up the hill, further and further, with no church in sight. I stopped another lady and asked her similar questions about the church's location. She simply stopped what she was doing and told us to follow her. We continued to walk further up the hill. In the distance she pointed out the church which had a prominent cross on its roof. After thanking her we resumed our journey up the hill.

When we finally reached the church we discovered it was the Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Family. However, after walking completely around the building and checking every door, the building was locked. We discovered an outdoor shrine to Our Lady of Lourdes and then one to Our Lady of Fatima. We rested on a bench near the second shrine and caught our breath. By the way, did I mention that it was somewhere around 90 degrees?

After some time we found a lady exiting a nearby building which we later discovered was the rectory. We identified ourselves as two priests (we were dressed as tourists) and asked her if someone could call a taxi for us to return to the ship. She agreed to help us. Soon after she left, a car arrived at the rectory and a priest (visibly dressed as such) exited the car. We told him we were priests and he offered not only to take us back to the ship himself but also brought us bottles of water and suggested that he could take us for a tour of the island if we had the time.

Fr. John Paul, a native of Togo in west Africa, gave us the best "Catholic" tour of the island pointing out historic churches, schools, a retreat center and various points of interest. We could not have asked for a better experience if we had paid for it!

I was so impressed with the various acts of kindness to two complete strangers. The people of Antigua whom we met, from the elderly ladies giving direction to the housekeeper at the rectory to the parish priest, all exemplified lessons that the Gospels teach us: whatever you do to the least of my brothers . . . whoever gives a cup of cold water . . . love your neighbor as yourself.

I wonder if I would have done similar to a stranger arriving at my door?

Fr. Ed Namiotka


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