The Pope’s ambassador to the Caribbean region arrives Thursday at Owen Roberts International Airport for a three-day visit to the Cayman Islands.
On his first tour of Cayman, Archbishop Nicola Girasoli will explore Grand Cayman, accompanied by Archbishop Allen Vigneron and Bishop Francis Reiss, both of Detroit.
Archbishop Girasoli was appointed in December 2011 as Apostolic Nuncio to the Trinidad-based, 22-diocese Antilles Episcopal Conference, which encompasses most of the English, Dutch and French Caribbean, and which has overseen the Cayman Islands since 2000.
The Papal Nuncio, 56, a native of Bari, Italy, will meet Acting Governor Franz Manderson Thursday afternoon, followed by 6pm mass at St Ignatius Church, marking the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
On Friday morning, the trio will visit Cayman Brac’s Stella Maris Church in Cotton Tree Bay, meeting parishioners at 9am, returning after lunch to Grand Cayman to tour the island.
The high point of the visit comes on Saturday evening mass at St. Ignatius, followed by a 7pm reception in Loyola Hall.
Both Archbishop Vigneron and Bishop Reiss have visited Cayman previously – Archbishop Vigneron dedicated Stella Maris at its 5 February, 2011 opening, preaching mass at St. Ignatius Church the following day.
Bishop Reiss said he had been in Cayman “every year, at least twice, usually in May or January”.
He said Archbishop Girasoli would bring “the message of care the Holy Father has for the whole church”, but without a particular agenda.
“It’s really a pastoral visit,” he said. “The Papal Nuncio is the official representative of the Holy Father, and has responsibility for the Antilles, the Caribbean region.
“He wants to understand the people and their needs, and to take care of them.
“He will preach at some services. He is there to watch and to listen, and to bring greetings from the Holy Father,” Bishop Reiss said.
Most recently, a 16 April address by the Papal Nuncio in St. Kitts and Nevis touched on the February retirement of Pope Benedict and ascension of Pope Francis, saying he “brings a new spring for the Church”.
Citing his visits throughout the region, Archbishop Girasoli said, “I could realise and admire how strong and deep is the pastoral commitment of your dioceses, even among so many challenges and difficulties.
“I have learned more about the reality and the vibrant vitality of each diocese. Listening to the priests, the men and women religious and the laity, I could also become more aware of the problems and the expectations that they are facing in their daily pastoral ministry,” the Nuncio told an audience at a session of the Antilles Episcopal Conference.”
He thanked assembled bishops for their “tireless dedication to the spiritual needs of the region”, saying Rome had “noted and appreciated your proposal to make a Catholic Bible available for every family in the region”.
He lamented, however, a shortage of priests in the Caribbean and “the lack of vocation to the priestly and religious life”.
“We do need priests now,” he said, calling the situation in some dioceses “extremely worrying”, forcing the church to import “priests, men and women religious from other regions around the world. Nowadays, priests are the priority in our dioceses.”
“Do not get tired of dialogue,” he said, “and do not close the door of the dialogue with your priests even when they have different opinions, even when they seem stubborn, even when you think they are wrong. Be patient because it is only through a patient dialogue that communion can be consolidated.”
India-born Father Suresh Rajaian of St. Ignatius detailed Archbishop Girasoli’s itinerary for the three days following his Thursday arrival from Miami, his afternoon meeting with Mr. Manderson and 6pm mass.
“After mass, he will have dinner with about 20 people from the Parish Council and staff,” Father Suresh said, at “a good Italian restaurant, Luca.”
Staying in a church-owned service apartment on Denham Thompson Way, around the corner from St. Ignatius, the Nuncio, Archbishop Vigneron and Bishop Reiss fly to Cayman Brac at 9am on Friday on a regularly scheduled flight, meeting congregants at Stella Maris, then retiring for lunch at a local restaurant, Father Suresh said.
Returning to Grand Cayman at 4pm, the Nuncio will “have a quiet evening, spending the night at the apartment”, Father Suresh said, followed on Saturday by a 9am meeting with the Parish Council in the St. Ignatius school hall.
A tour of Grand Cayman will follow, although Father Suresh was unsure if it would be by car or water, with a stop “somewhere for lunch, although we don’t know where yet”, and possibly a visit to West Bay’s Christ the Redeemer Church.
The Nuncio will lead 6pm mass at the 350-seat St. Ignatius Church, scheduled “to take about an hour, followed by a reception about 7.15, 7.30pm in the school hall, Loyola Hall,” he said, “lasting as long as people are there.”
A Sunday morning mass will be followed by departure preparations. “He has to leave by about 10am,” the Father said, ‘”for a flight at noon,” ultimately returning to Port au Spain and the Episcopal Conference’s Trinidad headquarters.
Bishop Reiss was unable to say if a full-scale Papal visit to Cayman might be in prospect.
“The Holy Father has made as many efforts to visit as many places as possible,” Bishop Reiss said, citing Pope John Paul’s 1998 tour of Cuba and Pope Benedict’s three-day visit in March 2012.
“The itinerary for the future? I just don’t know,” he said, equally unsure of Archbishop Girasoli’s plans.
“He’s very energetic and shows great interest in the 22 dioceses,” he said, “and I’m sure he wants to visit all of them.”
Since arriving in Trinidad in January 2012, the Archbishop, who is fluent in English, French, Spanish and Italian, has toured a handful of regional dioceses including St. Maarten, Bermuda, the Bahamas, Curacao, St. Lucia, Barbados and Antigua.
Archbishop Girasoli was appointed Apostolic Nuncio to the Trinidad-based, 22-diocese Antilles Episcopal Conference, which encompasses most of the English, Dutch and French Caribbean, on 21 December, 2011.