Profile: Caribbean Archbishop-elect Kenneth Richards

Archbishop Kenneth Richards

Archbishop Kenneth Richards

One of Antigua and Barbuda's most notable religious leaders passed through London last week, on his return to the Caribbean after receiving the pallium from Pope Francis in Rome.

The Most Rev Kenneth David Oswin Richards, who served as Bishop of the Diocese St John's-Basseterre since December 2011, has been appointed as the new Metropolitan Archbishop of Kingston, Jamaica. He will be ordained as the seventh Archbishop of Kingston at a special service this Wednesday, July 6 at the Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity on North Street in Kingston.

The oldest of seven children, Bishop Richards was born in Linstead, St Catherine. When he was about 10 years old, he became the first in his family to convert to Catholicism. It was the Eucharist that attracted him to the Church, he said. Later the rest of his family also became Catholic.

After his ordination in 1985, the Archbishop-elect served as associate pastor at Holy Cross Church in Half-Way-Tree, pastor of St Patrick's Church in Waterhouse, pastor of St Benedict's Church, Harbour View, Pastor of two parishes St Jude and St Patrick, and archdiocesan Director of Vocations, before becoming rector of Holy Trinity Cathedral where he oversaw the restoration in time for its 100th anniversary in 2011. In 2009, Father Richards became a Monsignor, and in December 2011, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Kenneth Richards as Bishop of St Johns-Basseterre in Antigua and Barbuda and St Kitts and Nevis.

Looking back at his time in St John's-Basseterre, Bishop Richards said he felt one important achievement was the establishment of several commissions including the Building and Property Commission and the Catholic Schools Commission.

One subject very close to his heart has been his work with young people. Since the Youth Assembly which brought together young people from 19 dioceses in 2009, he has encouraged many more youth initiatives.

Most recently the focus has been on Pope Francis' exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia. Youth groups are encouraged to read and study the document, and then come together for discussions. "In this document Pope Francis stresses the importance of family life using an approach which is very pastoral." Archbishop Richards said. "The Pope teaches that: 'reality must not become an obstacle to the ideal'."

"We encourage them to read the document and then they segue into deeper thinking and discussion. In our experience, as young people become more familiar with the document it really makes sense... One young lady's view on cohabiting was completely changed after studying Amoris Laetitia," the Archbishop said.

In the past, Catholic communities in the Caribbean islands have been very isolated from each other. " Within the Diocese of St John's-Basseterre, there were five nations on five different islands. Distances may be short, but they are difficult to reach, " Archbishop Richards explained. Church leaders would not see each other for months. But now that is changing, as they have begun using new technologies such as the Zoom web platform. "We're at an early stage but my goal is to develop communications to make each island more connected."

Archbishop Richards mentioned the importance of the external support, given by Catholic and other organisations for the pastoral and charitable needs of the Church in these islands. In particular he highlighted the significant good works which the Sacred Military Constantinian Order of St George is doing across the Caribbean region and paid tribute to the longstanding efforts and dedication of its Caribbean Delegate Sir Anthony Bailey.

"Sir Anthony whose connection with the Caribbean started in the 1980's, has been the main driving force behind the efforts to bring greater international attention to the needs and plight of the Caribbean people. For this, the many who have benefited from his voluntary efforts and hard work over a good number of years and especially in Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St Lucia and elsewhere are thankful and grateful" the Archbishop remarked.

The Archbishop said the Catholic Church is a minority in many islands and the economic climate is challenging especially against a backdrop of humanitarian emergencies in other parts of the world affected by war, conflicts and persecution. Sir Anthony, the Archbishop said "has given his best and should be congratulated for encouraging many good people from across the world and from all different faith communities and walks of life to donate directly to the Diocese and to help the Church and the people of the region through projects benefiting not just the Catholic community but all of society."

The Constantinian Order which has been active in the Caribbean since 1981, initiated its latest programme following the official visit of the Grand Master HRH The Duke of Castro and the Grand Prior Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino to the region in 2014. These visits were undertaken in cooperation with church and state authorities in each country and with specific Dioceses such as St John's-Basseterre (Antigua and Barbuda and St Kitts & Nevis).

Some of the projects launched in 2014 are already completed "on time and on budget" and others are "well advanced and underway and on schedule" the Archbishop said.

Among them are the building of a new community centre and church in Hatton, the construction of a new wing of St Joseph's Catholic Academy which was completed and inaugurated in March this year in the presence of Antigua's Governor General Sir Rodney Williams, Prime Minister Gaston Browne and the Leader of the Opposition Baldwin Spencer showing that "these projects have full cross party support".

Among the other projects being spearheaded by a number of donors including Sir Anthony Bailey, is the long-awaited restoration of the Catholic Cathedral of St Patrick and St Joseph which was virtually destroyed in the 1974 earthquake which devastated Antigua. The church represents for many the roots of Catholicism in the country. This project the Archbishop said, takes place alongside the restoration of the Anglican Cathedral of St John Divine which has also received personal donations from individuals and other ecumenical partners of the Constantinian Order such as delegation Constantinian Order member Sir William Jeffcock and one of the oldest Anglican Church Trusts in England, the Feoffees of Ecclesfield in Yorkshire.

Archbishop Richards should be back in Kingston now and has a busy schedule ahead. Following his ordination on Wednesday, he begins a series of meetings with clergy, deaneries, religious orders and commissions in Jamaica. "My main intention will be to listen and hear what everyone has to say" he said.

Read more about the Archdiocese of Kingston here:

Tags: Anthony Bailey, Antigua and Barbuda, Archbishop Kenneth Richards, Baldwin Spencer, Baroness Scotland, Caribbean, Commonwealth, Constantinian Order, Constantinians, Gaston Browne, Grenada, Jamaica, Josephine Huggins, Sir Anthony Bailey, Sir Rodney Williams, Sir Tapley Seaton, St John's Basseterre, St Kitts and Nevis, Timothy Harris

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