The Jesuits in Guyana

The most easterly part of the Guyana coast that part which leans-up-against the neighbouring country of Suriname. "Berbice" and "Corentyne" taking both of these names from the two rivers which border to the western and eastern edges of this region respectively. There is a coastal road through the Corentyne, it takes about two hours to drive from river-to-river and it links the three major towns-New Amsterdam (which is on the edge of the Berbice River), Springlands (which is also called Corriverton, situated on the edge of the Corentyne River) and Rose Hall (which is mid-way between the two rivers).

The Jesuits in Berbice minister to the parishes in Springlands and Port Mourant and also have responsibility for some of the smaller agricultural communities scattered down along the coast, such as that at Black Bush Polder. Once a month at least one of the Jesuits makes the 2-hour boat journey down the Corentyne River to an obscure Arawak Amerindian community based at Siparuta.

The ethnic origin of the population of Berbice is predominantly Indian and only about 2% of the people in this part of the country are Catholic. (This compares with 8% in Guyana overall). Thus, as well as developing the traditional Catholic pastoral ministries, the Jesuits in Berbice also run the Guyana Human Development Centre (GHDC) which is a multi-purpose training centre, which tries to reach out to the needs of the local community no matter what their religion or ethnic background. Many of the people in the area are poor sugar-cane harvesters, fisher-folk and subsistence farmers.

The GHDC has initiated various developmental projects in the area:

for young children there are attempts to address the basic education gaps in writing, reading and communication skills, for young adults the challenges are different and so some courses attempt to deal with life-skills and employment issues and there are various seminars and workshops as well as formal education classes and computer literacy programmes.
For adult women, there are sewing and cooking classes and other self-help and health groups, which, give confidence to a fragile section in Berbice society. This has helped to boost their small business &,, employment opportunities and has also assisted in improving the quality of family life, by (for example) reducing the number of undernourished children in the area.

At present there are three Jesuits based in Berbice (Frs. Tony, Gilburt and Sch. Edwin) and they live together at the GHDC in Port Mourant as a community dedicated to Roberto di Nobili -a 17th Century Italian Jesuit priest who inculturated the preaching of the Gospel into the India of his time.