Father Jason Biscette does not mince words. That does not always work to his benefit. He has himself admitted that not all in the Catholic Church agree with his vocal take on issues.
For over a month last year his words in an interview with me that St Lucians must stop engaging in petty politics were repeated by Timothy Poleon on his NewsSpin programme. Tim may have been hoping that his party aligned callers might heed the word of the cassocked brother, for the show’s host had not been able on his own to get particular callers to see past their affiliations.
Said Biscette at the time: “We are not progressive in our thinking. And this SLP, UWP, the whole political climate is so fenced in. People hardly ever listen to the issues. People need to be able to say, whether I support this party of not, if you are bringing something forward which is not right I can say it is not right. If it is good, I can say it is good, regardless of party. We have to get people to understand that this kind of division and obsessive factions do not benefit us. We have to be more objective in our thinking, analyze and come up with what’s best. We have to stop the political pettiness.”
Faced with presiding over the funeral of the first person to be killed for the year—banker Andrew Bapiste who was gunned down in his home—the young priest could hardly contain his exasperation with the current climate in Saint Lucia. Like many who sat at the funeral of Baptiste on Saturday afternoon Biscette wondered what had become of simply beautiful St Lucia. Also at the funeral were Prime Minister Stephenson King and Opposition Leader Kenny Anthony in separate pews. Father Biscette made a special plea to the leaders of the country and threw out a challenge to both of them that no other religious leader has done in Saint Lucia’s recent history. The following is an excerpt of the Homily Father Biscette delivered at the memorial service:
“How many times have you reflected or conversed among yourselves about the violent crime which has become as much a part of our Saint Lucian reality as Saturday morning market or Sunday morning church or karaoke or Country and Western dance or barbecue chicken? It has become a part of who we are. How many times have you spoken about it, have you thought about it and you knew just like Andrew knew, you knew that there is always a possibility that it can strike close to home. And yet still we do not really believe it would strike close to home so dramatically.
“There is no making sense of evil. Evil by its very nature is senseless. It makes no sense that in one calendar year you have 48 murders on an island the size of Saint Lucia, with a population that is the size of Saint Lucia. It makes no sense that in the first half of the first month, of this New Year we have already recorded four, including one this morning so I am told. It makes no sense that our children, your children have to grow up in an environment, an atmosphere where law enforcement officers have no choice but to patrol the streets in full camouflage, fully armed, huge guns at the ready in order to try to give some pause to the criminal elements. But then again it seems as if the only people who are given pause is we who are law abiding. The only people made nervous are those who are not criminals, the criminals seem to be unmoved.
“It makes no sense. Saint Lucia which was once paradise and simply beautiful is now just Saint Lucia, and this is not a criticism by the way at our tourism officials and their campaign, but I couldn’t help but reflect to myself that, you know, it is really fitting that we just say Saint Lucia in truth, because things have gotten so bad, we have no idea what adjective to put next to it.
“ . . . We are at war. We are in battle. And the quicker we come to understand that the better for us. The devil is waging war on us and I know for some people it might sound like religious drivel, but you better understand that’s the reality we are living in. And the weapon or the weapons that Satan is using are not guns and knives and cutlasses you know per se, but the poorly educated, unskilled, little black boys who have no future to look forward to. You take away the guns from them and they will find other weapons to use. What we have to come to realize is that it is our responsibility, and by our, I mean every single one of us in here and out there, it is our responsibility to ensure that Satan has as few of those weapons at his disposal as possible. But are we really serious about that?
“Are we really serious about changing the culture in which our sons, because yes they are your sons, they are our sons, our nephews our, cousins. Are we serious about changing the culture in which they are coming up? Are we serious about making the most of the limited, yes limited resources which we have? Are we serious about using them to the best of our ability to give a better opportunity, a different option to those young men? Are our churches serious about offering them life, something better than the darkness in which they are existing? And yes, we have been talking by the way. The Church didn’t only begin to speak when ‘Mama’ was killed, the Church has been speaking and by church I am not even going to specify and say Catholic Church, Christian voices have been speaking for time and ages past. But words are not enough. Are we serious about taking action?
“Our leaders, and I see a number of politicians in church now, tell us, show us, I beg you, that you are in fact serious about changing the culture of violence by sitting down with each other. Because you are setting the example of violence, not with guns and knives but with harsh words, and with the destruction of each other’s reputations (Applause). You are setting the example of violence and are showing our children that if this is your opponent what do you do—useless, senseless, baseless criticism and counter criticism. And you expect anything better from the rest of us? Sit down. if you want I will take your hand and I will give you the table for you to sit down on. But sit down and talk, like adults (Applause). If you want a referee I will be your referee, but sit down and talk. Forget what two letters come before your “P” and focus on the fact that you both have “P”. You both have something in common. You both, I hope, have some goal, some vision in common which is to change the reality. Begin from that reality—that you both have something that you are aiming towards and work from there. And agree to disagree when that is necessary. Because the evil one who is leading the war against us, is having a hearty time. He looks at us and he says, yes they know what’s wrong, but they don’t have the testicular fortitude to do what they have to do to stop it.
“And Honourable Richard Frederick who sits right there in my congregation on a Sunday morning, can tell you that it’s more than once I have said, not just to him but to everyone sitting here on a Sunday, even if it means losing the position that you hold . . . Do you want to be a hero or a nothing, a coward with nothing? What else should we do? Not just the politicians, all of us, what else can we do to change the reality? But we have to come to understand that there is no way we are going to beat Satan at his own game and we have to understand that the same boldness and audacity and impunity with which the agents of Satan are operating out there, that same audacity and impunity and boldness we should use in living righteous lives.
“The criminals are not afraid of what anyone says when they do what they do, why should you and I be afraid of what others say when it comes to living out our Christian identity? The criminals trust in the guns and the knives that they carry and although everything points to the contrary many of them really believe they are invincible you know.
“You and I must trust in the values that Christianity gives to us, the ideals that Christianity gives to us. The criminals have full confidence in the gangs to which they belong and yet we who are Christians what we do is stab the very churches that we belong to, bad talk the very pastors and priests who seek to lead us. The same boldness the same confidence use it!
“Let the world know that before I am SLP or UWP I am Christian, before I am from Castries or Gros Islet I am from heaven, before I belong to the Prime Minister or Opposition Leader I belong to Christ.
“It is only when we begin to stand with that same boldness, whether it be in the House of Parliament, whether it be on the streets, whether it be by JJ’s across there, whether it be in our families in our homes or on the Vigie playing field, wherever it may be, it’s only when we begin to stand up and to live confidently our identity as Christian people, reclaiming it boldly and confidently that Satan will realize that he has a fight on his hands. As long as we are living timidly, just the Saturday or Sunday faith in existence, we eh going nowhere, until our faith becomes a part of or everyday, every moment in life, Amen.”
Following Father Biscette’s Homily neither of our leaders present showed each other a sign of peace.