from Fr. M. CAMPBELL-JOHNSON, S.J.
St. Pius X Church. La Penitence, Georgetown, Guyana.
rrHE Vatican Council told Ius that "the whole Church is missionary." and each time we come out from Ma s we are reminded that this applies to every member of the People of God.
Apart from obvious differences of climate, customs and so on, how then is my work as a missionary priest in Guyana any different from that of a brother priest in some English parish?
We are both concerned with trying to build up the community of God's people and so make Christ's message a living reality in the world of today. The I means may vary from place' to place, but the final objective is the same.
This may not have been true in the days of the old "picturebookmissionaries — those legendary bearded giants who travelled vast distances on foot to bring the Gospel to primitive peoples. But there are not many of these missionaries left in Guyana today.
True. the Church still has to
care for the Amerindians on the Rupununi Savannahs, in the Pakaraima Mountains and throughout the North-West District. the original inhabitants of Guyana. Conditions are still primitive and travelling difficult, but the jeep and the Mini-Moke have replaced the horse, and the mission is now the proud owner of a four-seater Cessna plane.
Once every four months I go off into the interior myself to say Muss at three small centres in the middle of the gold and diamond country along the Mazaruni River near the border with Venezuela. But even in this wild jungle country of the pork-knockers (traditional Guyanese name for the gold and diamond seekers), we ply up and down the rivers on speed-boats that cover in a few hours distances that would have previously taken many days.
Only a small proportion of the missionaries in Guyana have anything to do with the interior at all. Most are wholly occupied with the teeming parishes on the coastal strip where 90 per cent of the country's population lives.
Here the Church is involved in much the same activities as she is throughout the world.
Apart from the parishes, there are three high schools and numerous primary ones. a hospital. a leprosarium, two orphanages, a publications centre, a minor seminary, and
But perhaps there is a difference in our work. Guyana shares most of the problems of other developing countries, but adds two others which, though not specifically her own, are very characteristic of her.
The first is her recent accession to independence after centuries of colonial rule. As well as the attempt to combine progress with some sort of political and social stability, such a transition always seems to involve a search for national identity.
In the case of Guyana this is aggravated by her multi-racial composition and the grave disturbances this led to four years ago. Though the population is numerically small, it comprises a veritable kaleidoscope of six major races (East Indian, African, Amerindian. Chinese, Portuguese, European) and numerous commutations between them.
This in turn has given birth to a remarkable cultural and even gastronomic diversity that is all the more amazing for being situated on the edge of a continent that is almost entirely Latin.
The modern missionary has to identify himself far more closely with the problems and aspirations of a young and small developing nation than is necessary in the larger industrialived countries of the West.
In the case of Guyana, he has to try and preach Christ's message to a society in the throes of rapid social change, and in terms that are meaningful to Hindus, Moslims. Chinese and Amerindians. This calls for a high degree of flexibility, and the Church must ever be on the look-out if its message is to continue to be seen as relevant.
It is perhaps this that is the greatest challenge to the missionary priest in Guyana and differentiates his work from that of his confreres at home. It means that he must do his best to become Guyanese in outlook and spirit and that the Church must play a prominent part in the social, economic and spiritual development of a new nation for the sake of Christ.