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Pope Visit Follows Apology For Church Role in Slavery, Colonization

August 9, 1993

KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) _ Pope John Paul II’s visit to Jamaica this week is intended as a follow-up to his apology last year for Roman Catholicism’s role in supporting slavery and New World colonization.

Hostility to the three-day visit, which began today, has already sprung up among the non-Catholic majority in this Caribbean nation. As if to make it more difficult, his trip is sandwiched between two reggae festivals.

The pope’s plane, a special Alitalia Boeing 747, took off from Rome this morning for the nearly 11-hour flight to Kingston, the first stop of the 60th foreign trip of his papacy.

The pope’s visits this week to Jamaica and Mexico - ahead of a stop for a World Youth Congress in Denver - complete the pontiff’s bittersweet observance of the quincentennial of Christopher Columbus’ first voyage to the Americas.

″He will continue the theme″ stated during an emotional February 1992 journey to Senegal, in Africa, said Monsignor Richard Albert, an American who has worked in Jamaica for the past 18 years.

During that trip, the pope apologized for Catholicism’s role in cooperating with the subjugation of native New World peoples and the importation of African slaves.

The pope is scheduled to travel to Mexico on Wednesday and Denver on Thursday before departing for Rome on Sunday. The 73-year-old pontiff has visited 108 nations since he became pope nearly 15 years ago.

John Paul originally intended to visit Jamaica and Mexico following quincentennial celebrations in the Dominican Republic, but his travel time was reduced following the removal of a benign colon tumor in July 1992.

The pontiff must compete with secular and sectarian distractions in this predominantly Protestant country of 2.5 million, of whom only 150,000 are Catholic.

During his visit, John Paul is expected to speak out on two social problems the Vatican has identified in Jamaica: ″illegal unions″ and sexual promiscuity. Many Jamaicans practice common-law marriage.

A Rastafarian cultural festival runs through Tuesday, John Paul’s only full day in Jamaica, and the annual Sunsplash reggae music festival ended early Sunday. When the pope leaves on Wednesday, another reggae bash called Jamfest will be getting under way.

In the final hours of Sunsplash, one young leader of a reggae group denounced the visit, then yelled ″Pom 3/8 Pom 3/8 Pom 3/8″ putting two fingers to his head as if it were a gun.

″No one is going to do that, but certainly it was an expression of anger at organized religion in trying to limit what the master said,″ said Ernie Smith, a local singer-songwriter.

About seven in 10 Jamaicans are Protestant, most of them members of traditional churches, including the Anglican, Methodist and Moravian. As in many other nations, however, evangelical sects are gaining strength.

Rastafarianism, with its emphasis on black pride and the use of marijuana to heighten spiritual awareness, emerged from Jamaica’s own bleak slums.

Although it attracts only a small fraction of the population, the sect has become internationally known through its close links to reggae and such popular music stars as the late Bob Marley.

Rastafarians view the Vatican with suspicion and tend to see its pope as the head of white Western colonialist civilization. But Barbara Blake Hannah, a Rastafarian journalist and member of the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian Church, said John Paul II is viewed with some sympathy for having embraced his native Poland’s Black Madonna as a favorite icon.

The Rev. Albert said the pope will stress the church’s commitment to education and the poor. He will visit a home for the poor run by Mother Teresa’s charity and meet with Prime Minister P.J. Patterson and other leaders.

He is to hold a mass Tuesday at the 35,000-seat National Stadium.

Catholicism came to Jamaica with Christopher Columbus in 1494, but Catholics were persecuted by British colonists who arrived in the 17th century. Religious freedom began to be granted in the late 1700s, when many Catholic refugees who fled a slave revolution in Haiti settled in Jamaica.

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