‘A privilege to serve’

Catholic News, Trinidad, 23rd November, 2014

AEC outgoing General-Secretary receives papal award

In recognition of his work as General Secretary of the Antilles Episcopal Conference (AEC), Pope Francis has awarded Guyana-born Rev Michael James one of the Church’s highest medals for the laity.

Papal Nuncio Archbishop Nicola Girasoli gives Rev Mike James the lapel pin which accompanies the Cross of Honour awarded to him by Pope Francis. Looking on are Rev James’ wife, Maria, and Fr John Persaud, his successor as AEC General Secretary. Photos Raymond Syms.
Guyana-born permanent deacon Rev Michael James receives a warm hug from wife Maria at the Nuncio’s St Clair residence on November 13 after receiving a papal award for his service to the Church as General Secretary of the Antilles Episcopal Conference.

But those who gathered November 13 at the Papal Nuncio’s official residence in St Clair know that the award is being shared with the permanent deacon’s wife Maria, who pinned the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice(Cross of Honour) on her husband. Before translating the accompanying citation from Latin to English, Papal Nuncio Archbishop Nicola Girasoli described the award as “a visible sign” from the universal Church, to express thanks to Rev James for his service to the AEC. He also presented Maria with a rosary blessed by the Holy Father. Speaking on behalf of the AEC bishops, Archbishop Joseph Harris congratulated Rev James and Maria. He noted that on Rev James’ appointment seven years ago, he became the first deacon to hold the post “and a married one at that”. Archbishop Harris had said to himself that Rev James would have been “a different kind of secretary, one who would be influenced by the womanly virtues”. The archbishop said Rev James helped him as a bishop and even before that, at his then parish of St Ann’s, before moving on to assist the Belmont parish. Archbishop Harris thanked Rev James and Maria “for their wonderful work in the parishes and around the Archdiocese… Thanks for the great work that you have done; thanks for the way in which you have urged us and pushed us to make the Bible so important in our own lives and the life of the archdiocese.” Newly installed AEC General Secretary Fr John Persaud, who has been working alongside his countryman since August preparing to take over, said it would be difficult to walk in Rev James’ shoes because “of all that he brought to the office and the tremendous work to help the bishops in their pastoral ministry and the Church in the Caribbean”.

Fr Persaud said he received e-mails from the bishops and others whom Rev James had helped. “What a wonderful gift Mike and Maria have been to the Caribbean Church in the role,” joking that he told the bishops that they were giving him the job “but not giving me the wife”. Fr Persaud said Maria played “an integral part”, not only supporting her husband but helping in the work at the AEC Secretariat.

In closing, Fr Persaud promised to do his best to serve the Caribbean Church. Belmont parish priest Fr Tom Lawson OP, Archbishop Harris’ secretary Maria Afong, and Belmont parishioners Yvette and Douglas James also shared a few words. While wishing them all the best, Fr Lawson said Mike and Maria’s departure from the parish had left him with a heavy heart.  Afong, remarking that she was “Maria #2”, thanked Rev James for his advice and support, and described both as “very beautiful people”. Yvette and Douglas James said Mike and Maria had “changed the face of Belmont parish in a significant way” and helped in their spiritual growth. Before presenting the Nuncio with a Christian Community Bible in recognition of Bible Month, Rev James said that for him and Maria, it had been “a privilege to serve the Church” and they were thankful for the opportunity to just be servant. He also thanked the Mexican religious sisters who serve “behind the scenes” at the Nunciature, the Guadalupan Servants of Christ the Priest, for their friendship. Rev James and Maria left Trinidad on Monday to settle in the southeastern Mexican city of Cancún near Maria’s family.  He told the Catholic News they would still therefore be part of the Caribbean as Cancún was on the Caribbean Sea.