18th Conference on Theology in the Caribbean Today (St. Lucia,2016)

Theme ”Inculturation and Indigenization: Becoming Who We Are”


“She had a very prayerful and poetic way of understanding our task. I’ll miss her contribution”.

Dr Gerald Boodoo in Caribbean Theology Today WhatsApp “chat”, on  learning of the death, of Sr. Jean Devenish-Huggins SJC, on June 21, 2016.


Sr Jean oftentimes was the “scribe” of the biennial conference on Theology in the Caribbean Today.

Sr. Jean Devenish-Huggins SJC

Sr. Jean Devenish-Huggins SJC

Indeed the last time she was “scribe” was for the 14th conference held in St Lucia in 2009. St Lucia too was the site of the first conference in 1994. The conference returned to this island for its 18th conference, held June 12-18, and so in tribute to Sr Jean’s legacy, we record some of the highlights of what for some participants was “the best” conference to date.

Perhaps the very theme of the 2016 edition “Inculturation and Indigenization: Becoming Who We Are” holds the key to why our overall experience of the conference was “best”. For starters, today’s culture of instant communication through the use of social media,  put us in touch with each other even before we arrived at the Cardinal Kelvin Felix Archdiocesan Centre in Castries. Email, Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter enabled us to meet participants, especially those attending for the first time, to have some insight into what would be presented, and to wonder at the breadth of life experience of conference participants. The 20 core participants would come from not only the island chain of the Caribbean – from the Bahamas to Curaçao – but would include two male, non-cleric Americans and a Japanese researcher of Siparia’s “La Divin”.

The age range was also significant. Not only did we have our 80-something “pots and pans theologian” and career home-maker, Gloria Bertrand, who has probably attended more conferences than most, but we also had the 30&40-somethings, for whom the experience of the early post Vatican II Church is limited to reference books and newspapers. And not least, those of us who came into awareness of ourselves as Church through the Regional Seminary of the 70s, the retreat movements (Movement for a Better World, Cursillo), the Charismatic Renewal, Liturgy School, Fr Michel de Verteuil’s Lectio Divina study groups…All these varied cultural and life experiences would come to bear on our conference discussions — in the meeting room, the dining room, on the porch, in the bus as we journeyed to the nature reserve and around the television set following the NBA Finals!


Who are we? Who do we  say we are?

The conference opened with Holy Mass on Monday evening, at which Archbishop Robert Rivas O.P. presided. The vibrant singing was led by a small group of youngsters of exceptional voice, some still in their school uniforms. Having been fed spiritually at the table of the Eucharist and materially in the Pastoral Centre’s dining room, we assembled in the meeting room for the first presentation of the 18th conference.

Adanna James

Adanna James

The honour (and trepidation) of this moment for Trini Adanna James! Imagine, one of the younger participants, a doctoral candidate at the Catholic University of  Louvain, Belgium, with a presentation entitled “Glissant’s Opacity: a way forward for a Caribbean Imago Dei”! That’s what the programme said, anyway. When she spoke she renamed her presentation “Caribbean Identity and Caribbean Insights from Edouard Glissant and Disability Theology”.

Using the biblical text “Who do you say I am” (Mt.16:16) to focus on the idea of a journey from a particular place (social context) directed by divine presence, Adanna  reflected on  the Catholic church in Trinidad & Tobago during the period 2008-2016. She examined the issue of ecumenism, the closing of the Regional Seminary in 2011, the “vocations crisis” and the move towards the ordination of Permanent Deacons, all within the context of what some perceive as crisis and chaos in the Church.

 Adanna’s presentation introduced us to a non-English-speaking Caribbean philosopher, thinker, writer, Edouard Glissant from Martinique. One of Glissant’s central concepts is that of “relations/relationship.”It is relationship with others which helps shape the self, or who one is, one’s identity. When one understands what happens in relation with others of different abilities, then one can begin to be open to the concept of identity as relation “governed by unimaginable turbulence”, not fixed, always emerging and expanding towards something bigger. So disturbance, or turbulence, is not necessarily chaos or crisis, it can be the fount of fresh possibilities.

The question Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” was also key to us in coming to terms with our conference theme. Who are we? What are we becoming? What is our culture? Who are the indigenous? Who do we say we are /Jesus is in this chaotic, violent 21st century? Questions with no clear answers but we have the assurance and grounding in our faith that once we remain in dynamic relationship with our God, our fellow human beings and all of creation, there is identity; identity born of chaos.

( Compiled for the Editorial Committee by June Johnston with contributions from Ramon Luzarraga & Bernadette Salandy)

For continuation : cf. WHO ARE WE? DAY 2