After God is the Earth
In July, Sisters Marie Pauline Skalski and Marie Tessmer, along with lay woman Joan Hilton, traveled to the Island of Dominica in the West Indies to experience the people and culture with S. Mary Gallagher, who has been ministering there since January 2011. The group ran a two-week Vacation Bible School for the children of the villages of Soufriere and Scott’s Head, and visited the Infirmary for the Aged in Roseau, the capital city. Their reflections follow.
S. Marie Pauline Skalski
Dominica, located in the Lesser Antilles, not far from St. Lucia, is called the gem of the Caribbean for its natural beauty. The island is a green, mountainous rainforest with an abundance of tropical fruits. The Caribbean Sea is calm, blue and magnificent. And in the midst of this splendor is widespread poverty and unemployment.
The people are beautiful and welcoming. There is a sense of dignity and civility about them, especially in dress and manner. They approach life with determination, humor and a sense of hope built on faith.
Our first project was to conduct a Bible School for the children. It started off slowly but quickly grew until we had more children than expected. The children were happy, eager and ready to learn. They also were very lively, which meant if there was a calm moment we had to take advantage of it or lose it!
On the last day the children had a program in church for their parents in which each class prepared a presentation to highlight what they learned. The little ones sang songs, and the middle and older students presented skits such as The 10 Lepers and a modern take on the Annunciation. All students did very well and we were proud of them!
We worked alongside dedicated and talented catechists from the parish. The catechists received their training at the Catechist Training Institute, which S. Mary Gallagher developed under the guidance of Bishop Kelvin Felix when she was serving in St. Lucia in the 1980s. It made us proud to see the success of S. Mary’s labors.
We followed up our work with the children with visits to the residents at the Dominica Infirmary, a nursing home for the sick and elderly. Dominica is known for the longevity of its people and it was rewarding to listen to the wisdom and stories of their lives.
Our days were busy and we looked forward to relaxing evenings. The Caribbean Sea was literally in our front yard. We swam in its clear warm waters nearly every day. We were very buoyant in the water and enjoyed floating in the warm layer of water at the surface … pure relaxation!
What a blessing it was to get to know the good people of Dominica, to serve them, to visit them, to learn from them, and most of all, to pray with them.
S. Marie Tessmer
After God is the earth – the motto of Dominica says it all! My three weeks in Dominica affirmed the goodness of people and the splendor of creation. How such a small island (29 miles long and 16 m
S. Mary Gallagher, S. Marie Pauline Skalski, Joan Hilton and I lived in the village of Soufriere on the Caribbean Sea. The convent and the Church of St. Mark were within yards of the sea. Imagine walking out your front door and greeting the calm, blue waters.
We had a two-week Vacation Bible School for the children of Soufriere and Scott’s Head (a village at the other end of the bay). The children were lively and curious. I had the youngest children. They surely tested my creative abilities and energy, but I managed to keep pace with them. The young children know God loves them but neighborly love was a bit more challenging.
On our first day we all agreed to be nice to each other. Besides our Bible lessons, we spent time figuring out what “nice” means in concrete terms. The young ones loved to print and sing! Thank God, I still have command of printing skills and remember primary songs about the love of God and Jesus. We sang many songs with actions throughout our sessions. We praised God with our whole being.
Attending liturgy with the parish community was an exhilarating experience. From elders to first graders, everyone sings from their toes. The Church vibrated from the singing. Accompanied by drums and a keyboard, the music had a definite Caribbean rhythm. Music is a powerful expression of faith. The choice of hymns reflected struggle and hope – and lots of praise. They live the providence of God. After all, Dominica rests on young, active volcanoes!
Our visits to the Infirmary for the Aged in Roseau, the capital city, had me pondering the wisdom of elders. The elders there were alert and appeared content. In conversation, they spoke of acceptance, gratitude, faith and longing. They spoke of their love for Dominica and its gifts to them – family, livelihood, beauty and abundance. At one point I thought to myself that Dominica must be a hint of what the Garden of Eden had to be. The simplicity and joy of these wisdom figures definitely enriched me.
I am in awe of the natural beauty of Dominica. Most of the population lives in coastal towns and villages, so fishing, marine life and tourism are sources of income. At least two-thirds of the island is natural vegetation. The interior is rainforest. Rivers and waterfalls are plentiful; flora and fauna hold more shades of green than Crayola has crayons.
People live a life of simple abundance. Varieties of fruits, vegetables, spices, herbs and natural remedies grow everywhere – or so it seems! We ate at least three or four of the 38 varieties of mangos. We visited a wellness retreat in Soufriere that had an outdoor restaurant. I still remember the waitress picking guava fruit while we were eating our main course. For dessert, we were served ice cream with slices of guava - from tree to dish, so simple!
Dominica challenged me to examine my first-world life in light of a developing country. From children to elders, the Dominican people challenged me to let God’s providence guide me in all ways.