Island parish under Archdiocese of Detroit's care immersed in pastoral letter: 'There is a great desire to evangelize'

GEORGE TOWN, Grand Cayman — From Temperance to North Branch, Port Huron to Plymouth, and Canton to Grand Cayman, Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron is inviting every parish in the Archdiocese of Detroit to undergo a “missionary conversion.”

Wait, Grand Cayman?

Since the release of his pastoral letter, Unleash the Gospel, in 2017, the archbishop has asked every priest, religious, minister and layperson to examine what they can do to prioritize spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ in their corner of the world.

For some, that means right here in southeast Michigan. For others, that “corner” extends a little farther south. 

But the Church in the Cayman Islands is a part of the archdiocese's movement to unleash the Gospel — even if some people need a globe and a brief history lesson to realize it. 

St. Ignatius Parish on Grand Cayman is the Caribbean outpost of the Archdiocese of Detroit. The lone parish on the British Overseas Territory became the pastoral responsibility of the Archdiocese of Detroit 2000, when Detroit Cardinal Adam J. Maida accepted responsibility for the island’s Catholic community from the Archdiocese of Kingston, Jamaica.

The parish in the three-island territory, which is 272 miles due south of Cuba and 272 miles west of Jamaica, has three worship sites — two on Grand Cayman and one on Cayman Brac, the easternmost island 100 miles away — with an estimated 1,200 families from 130 different countries from around the world.

“We’ve been trying to work on evangelization efforts, revamping our outreach to the community since the letter came out,” O’Neil Miller, director of religious education and youth ministry team coordinator, told Detroit Catholic via phone. “We’ve been in constant communication with Anita Houghton from the archdiocese's evangelization office, keeping us up to date and informed with everything that is happening in the archdiocese.”

The parishioners of St. Ignatius are in tune with the archdiocese just like any other parish, Miller explained. In September 2017, the parish hosted Sarah Kaczmarek, associate director for Alpha in a Catholic Context, with 250 participants attending the course.

In 2018, the parish hosted Ignite, a series of preaching and Eucharistic adoration events similar to the archdiocese's “Come! Encounter Christ” series.

Fr. Devon Nash, a priest of the Archdiocese of Kingston, Jamaica, celebrates Mass at Christ the Redeemer Church on Cayman Brac, a satellite of St. Ignatius Parish.
Thirty teenagers were confirmed this spring at St. Ignatius, when Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron visited the island parish.

“Every month, we had a session where we had a period of worship, then a small talk, followed by Eucharistic adoration and a procession with the Blessed Sacrament around the church,” Miller said. “We are taking Christ out to the streets, to the peripheries, and we’ve seen people catch fire for the faith. We have teenagers who enjoy going to the conference at Steubenville to connect with other teens in the archdiocese, and they come back here, ready to volunteer.”

Social media has been critical for the parish to stay up to day with all things Unleash the Gospel, Miller said. Many parishioners follow Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Plymouth or St. Paul on the Lake in Grosse Pointe Farms on Facebook as examples of what other parishes in the archdiocese are doing, he added.

Still, there are some quirks to being part of an archdiocese that, geographically, is a quarter of the world away.

“Last year in November, the Archdiocese of Detroit had Unleash the Gospel Weekend, where people signed up for a challenge to receive videos,” Miller said. “But we did ours in February this year, just before the start of Lent. When we did Unleash the Gospel Weekend, many parishioners expressed excitement about the videos and what the archbishop wants from us.”

The parish had hard copies of the letter for staff, but St. Ignatius parishioners mostly have experienced the pastoral letter through the online videos.

“Our parishioners really don’t have a chance to get a hard copy of the letter, and we’re a little behind the eight ball on the island; we’re still unpacking it,” Miller said.

St. Ignatius parishioners process to the church with palm fronds during the Palm Sunday liturgy this spring.

Fr. Suresh Rajaian, SAC, served as pastor of St. Ignatius until July 1, when he started his new assignment at St. Pius X Parish in Southgate.

Speaking to Detroit Catholic in the spring, Fr. Rajaian said St. Ignatius' parishioners have been excited about the letter, in particular the concept of transforming the “spiritual DNA” of the island parish.

“The letter is not only pastoral, but a call to action,” Fr. Rajaian said. “The people like the discussion about being more transformative in the community, to be more evangelistic, attentive to spreading the Gospel to the community.”

The Cayman Islands have an estimated population of 64,420 — by comparison, roughly the population of West Bloomfield. Catholics are the largest denomination on the island, but do not make up a majority. The island is populated by people from around the world, Fr. Rajaian said, many of whom only live in the Caymans for two to four years before their employment takes them elsewhere.

“Here in this community, there is a lot of coming and going,” Fr. Rajaian said. “So the missionary focus is to be welcoming to all who come here, making them feel at home, inviting them to partake in the sacraments, make them want to actively take part in parish life.

“It's both a challenge and an opportunity,” Fr. Rajaian continued. “It’s a challenge to pray for someone whom you know (won't be here long). But when they go back home, they are able to speak about the engagement here at St. Ignatius; that’s a big opportunity for us.”

Armed with Unleash the Gospel, challenges still remain for St. Ignatius, which now is led by Fr. Theodore D'Cunha, SAC, who previously served as pastor of St. Priscilla Parish in Livonia. 

Children in St. Ignatius' Vacation Bible School program pose for a group photo at the parish last summer.

The main parish site is in George Town on Grand Cayman, with two missions — Christ the Redeemer in West Bay on Grand Cayman and Stella Maris on Cayman Brac, which celebrates Mass every other Sunday and has a Communion service when the pastor isn’t on the island.

But the small, and growing, Catholic community still sees its mission of spreading the Gospel on all three islands as an extension of the mission of the whole Church.

“The Cayman Islands have people from all over the world,” Miller said. “We are the spiritual home for people from so many different backgrounds — from India and the Philippines, to Scotland and Canada. It is what makes a dynamic parish, and we place a real focus on hospitality and welcoming anyone who walks in our doors.

“The challenge now for us is go outside the parish walls and to transform the island,” Miller said. “There is a great desire to evangelize, to be that witness for Christ. We’re looking at different models of evangelization, seeing how we can be radically hospitable, to bring Christ to the streets. That's what it means to live out the Gospel to everyone who comes across our shores.”