*By Claus Grue
Unrest in Venezuela, global warming and reduced funds are pertinent challenges facing the Caribbean Conference of Churches (CCC). Encompassing an area from Panama and Costa Rica in the west to The Lesser Antilles in the east, and from The Bahamas in the north to Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana on the South American mainland in the south, the CCC is comprised of 33 member churches in a diverse region, where four official languages are spoken: Dutch, English, French and Spanish. There are also a number of indigenous languages – or “creoles” - for example Papiamento in Aruba and Curacao, Sranan in Suriname and Creole in Guadeloupe, Haiti, Martinique, St. Lucia and The Commonwealth of Dominica.
The recent political and economic crisis in neighbouring Venezuela has quickly emerged as a major concern for the CCC, due to a flow of migrants, predominantly to Trinidad, which is only seven miles away across the ocean. Recently, an extraordinary initiative of the government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago allowed approximately 16,000 Venezuelans to register as migrants, giving them a legal status and a one-year guarantee to stay and work in The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.
“As a fellowship of churches, it is our task to mobilize member churches to attend to these people, whether we call them migrants or refugees. It is a humanitarian response with a theological rationale that informs it”, explains Gerard Granado, general secretary of CCC.
The Venezuelan crisis has thrown his nearby home-country into a geopolitical game where oil interests are at stake. A delegation of heads of states, ministers and other high ranking government officials from the Caribbean Community’s (CARICOM) member states visited the United Nations Secretary General, António Guterres, in January to express their grave concern over the situation in Venezuela and the implications it hasfor neighbouring countries. Their call for a peaceful internal solution for the Venezuelan people led to an offer from Gutterres ”to utilise his good offices to facilitate dialogue and negotiations between involved parties”. Talks between the opposing groups are currently being mediated by the Norwegian government.
”As in other regional matters, the CCC’s Secretariat is in ongoing communication with CARICOM’s Secretariat on this issue and following the course of things very closely”, Granado says.
Initiating dialogues for justice and peace
Actively supporting peace building initiatives, and in some cases also initiating direct dialogues with governments, are examples of how CCC and its member churches can make a difference for marginalised and voiceless people in the region. A few years ago, at the request of churches in both the Dominican Republic and neighbouring Haiti, the CCC was directly involved in discussions with government officials of the Dominican Republic, challenging the ethical dimension and implications of the ruling of that country’s Constitutional Court on nationality.
”As a consequence of that particular ruling, a great number of persons of Haitian descent born in the Dominican Republic would have been rendered “stateless,” thus precipitating a huge humanitarian crisis in the region. Such a situation would, of course, have been totally unacceptable and against all human decency, not to speak of the observance of internationally accepted norms in such circumstances”, Granado points out.
Subsequently, a round-table which includes representatives of the churches and the President of the Dominican Republic has been established to address the issue in an ongoing manner.
”While the issue has not been totally resolved, the situation demonstrates that churches are often in a position to counter injustices on moral grounds”, Granado explains.
Operating under a new paradigm
Going through a painful transition caused by a reduction in funds, the CCC has been forced to scale down its office presence across the Caribbean and embark upon a search for what Granado describes as ”a new operational paradigm - one that is undergirded by a new self-understanding of the member churches as a fellowship”.
Some years ago, the CCC’s headquarter was moved from Bridgetown, Barbados, to Port of Spain, Trinidad, where the cost of living is significantly lower.
”We must continue to find ways to reduce costs, while continuing to serve the peoples of the Caribbean. Closer collaboration across the region is one step in a more cost-efficient direction”, according to Granado.
The general secretary is currently in ongoing conversation with the leadership of member churches regarding what methodologies and processes would best serve the churches in their pursuit of this new paradigm.
With the hurricane season approaching, the needs are imminent. Global warming has compounded concerns as more powerful and devastating hurricanes have struck across the region in recent years.
“Some islands were almost totally devastated by hurricanes Irma and Maria two years ago. The island of Barbuda had to be completely evacuated by the government of Antigua & Barbuda since human life could not be sustained on the island after the passage of those hurricanes. It is imperative that the church continues to be there for these people”, says Granado.
Collaboration is also strengthened at a global level among churches. In early July, a four-day meeting between regional ecumenical organizations was wrapped up at World Council of Churches (WCC) in Geneva with a mutual commitment to increase global collaboration.
“We are an international fellowship of Christians and we must do everything we can to support each other and make a difference to those who are vulnerable and marginalised”, Granado concludes.
*Claus Grue is a communication consultant for the World Council of Churches.
"Regional ecumenical leaders pledge to stand strong together" - WCC news release 9 July 2019
"Regional ecumenical leaders convene at Bossey to share concerns, strengthen bonds" - WCC news release 2 July 2019