By Stephen Selvanathan, SJ

My companions and I chose “Service beyond Boundaries” as our motto for our Diaconate as well as Ordination. This motto inspired me to cross boundaries in various realms. It enthused me to serve the people of God beyond cultures and languages.

The seed of the missionary spirit was sown at the time of my Diaconate ordination. Soon I felt inspired to offer my service beyond my own geographical and cultural realities. I was aware that being away from one’s culture, language, people, and a familiar working environment is always going to be a big challenge that will require a lot of sacrifices.

My missionary life started in 2012, when I was given the opportunity to serve the youth of Afghanistan through the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS). The main focus of JRS was to forge young leaders by offering education to the youth living in the mountains. I feel happy that I was part of the JRS that served the young people of Afghanistan. The two years that I spent in Afghanistan are still fresh in my memory.

After two years I went for my Tertianship and the Jesuit who came to replace me in Afghanistan was Fr. Alex Premkumar, who was kidnapped and later released by the Taliban. After this, I could not continue my missionary work in Afghanistan.

But during my Tertianship the desire to be a missionary kept growing. But it was my bad luck that there was no invitation from any country. In 2017, my Jesuit superiors asked me whether I would like to work in Guyana. I was not very enthusiastic about travelling to Guyana because of some personal reasons which the Society considered genuine. However, my Jesuit superiors encouraged and motivated me to travel to Guyana. I came on a three year contract, but the pandemic and pressing needs made me decide to stay for three more years. I continue to serve in Guyana.

My missionary life started in 2012, when I was given the opportunity to serve the youth of Afghanistan through the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS).

Guyana, called British Guyana earlier, is a beautiful country below sea level. It has borders with Brazil, Venezuela and Suriname (Dutch Guyana earlier). The temperatures range from 17 to 31 degree Celsius throughout the year. The population is around 800,000. People here are of different origins – Indian, African, Portuguese, Chinese, etc. Most of them live along the coast, while the indigenous people live in the forest. Only 1% of land is used for human infrastructure, and 50% are for farming. The rest is forest area.

I reached Guyana on 17 August, 2017. The very next month I was sent to the northwest of Guyana, near the border of Venezuela, to serve among the indigenous people. I really enjoyed those six months, travelling by boat most of the time to celebrate Mass to the communities along the rivers. Driving was really tough, since the roads were very bad. After those hectic six months I am mostly in administration and I miss all those exciting and challenging trips.

Catholic Guyanese accept gladly missionary priests from anywhere around the world, since they don’t have enough local priests. Local pastors cater to the other Christian denominations. Only the Catholic Church suffers without sufficient priests in Guyana. There are no local vocations now and I feel that the main reason is the demand for celibacy as elsewhere in the global Catholic Church. It is a real challenge for the locals. Where priests are not available, local lay leaders called PLA – Parish Lay Assistant – and Eucharistic Ministers take care of the pastoral and spiritual needs of the faithful.

The major concern I have for Guyana is the future of its children. Many couples are not legally married. They just live together. More than 50% of children born to these couples are cared for by their grandmothers. What will happen to children brought up by grandparents – not by their own parents? When the parents get separated, the future of the children becomes bleak. The opportunity to live with the one whom they like may promote personal freedom, but it victimizes children who suffer in many ways. This way of life not only affects the future of children, but it also destroys the institution of family life.

Another major concern is the racial tension, particularly between Indo-Guyanese and Afro-Guyanese. Because of this racial tension and rivalry the progress of the country is affected. The major political parties exploit the racial division. The attention of whole world is on Guyana, because of the new oil wells found in recent years. Though the oil wealth is a boon to the country’s economy, the rising cost of living has become a serious concern for the ordinary people. The Guyana dollar has the least value among the Caribbean dollars. Mostly due to offshore oil wells, the livelihood of fishermen is endangered. This affects the environment too, when Guyana is already facing grave environmental challenges because of the climate crisis.

Many couples are not legally married. They just live together. More than 50% of children born to these couples are cared for by their grandmothers.

We are in the process of creating a new Caribbean Jesuit Province. It is our present General, who knows the strengths and problems of this part of the world, who wanted to bring different regions in the Caribbean, now administered by different Provinces from different parts of world, to form one single Province. But the Society left it to the different units in Caribbean to discuss and discern if this will facilitate our life and mission. The different units (Haiti, Belize, Puerto Rico, Guyana, Jamaica and Antilles) came together twice and took part in the discernment process. At the end Guyana (Region of British Province) and Jamaica (Region of UEA Province) have decided to join the existing Antilles Province, which will eventually be called the Caribbean Province from 31 July 2023. The other units are not yet ready to unite at this point of time.

We hope they too will soon join the new Province. The city of Santo Domingo will be the seat of the Provincial Curia and of the Archives of the Caribbean Province. In the beginning, the new Province will be formed by four sections: The Dominican Republic (Spanish), Cuba (Spanish), Miami (Spanish), and the English-speaking Caribbean (Guyana-Jamaica).

Let me, through this article, ask the readers for their prayers for the just-born Caribbean Province and the people of Guyana. You should also pray for missionaries all over the world who, just like me, have volunteered to serve in a different country and culture, placing their total trust in God and in the people whom they serve.

Stephen Selvanathan, SJ (MDU), who worked in Afghanistan earlier, now works in Guyana. He can be contacted at