By Matthew D. Ruhl, S.J.
Tuesday, September 10, 2019, Punta Gorda, Belize
Today the nation of Belize celebrates the Battle of St. George’s Caye. In 1798, between the dates September 3rd – 10th, the British baymen and their slaves repulsed the Spanish who tried to assert their dominion over this territory. The British were victorious in repulsing Spanish aggression. Hence, we celebrate the Battle of St. George’s Caye. The British reported no casualties. Of the Spanish, no casualties are known. Not a particularly bloody conflict, but historically very important nonetheless.
In 1931, there was another battle in Belize. And there were many casualties. This was not a battle between warring factions, but a battle against the elements. The Hurricane of 1931 killed an estimated 2,500 citizens, almost twice the number of lives lost in Hurricane Katrina. Of those casualties, 11 were Jesuits, the greatest one day loss of Jesuit life in the Province. Once upon a time stories were told of these Jesuits being killed while saving the lives of their students at Loyola College in Belize City. But after 88 years, these men, their stories, and their sacrifice are all but forgotten.
The school year has commenced. Our 5,200 plus kids with our 240-plus teachers have resumed their academic lives. It is both a happy and sad thing: happy because our kids are in school; sad because our buildings, teaching aids, and school supplies are so miserably deficient. Across the street at St. Peter Claver School we have two wooden buildings of five classrooms apiece that are now 60-year-old, termite-infested claptraps. Teachers and students alike complain of the termite dust that falls on them during the day from roof and ceiling. One day, God-willing, they will be replaced by cement buildings.
The backhoe has arrived! And is now working at preparing the ground for our new basketball court. This will be a 6 to 8-week process. In the meantime we shall tear up the old court in the school quad, replacing it with an aesthetically pleasing landscape of cooling green trees and grass.
Fr. Sam Wilson and I have revolutionized the decades-old manner of proceeding in Toledo District. Rather than wear ourselves out running from village to village, Mass to Mass, a manner quite detrimental to meaningful pastoral practice, we have employed buses and selected a few hub villages that we will work in. We now serve more people more pastorally and more efficiently than heretofore with three priests. So far, absolutely no complaints.
And finally, on Sunday, September 8th, St. Peter Claver Parish and School celebrated our 157th birthday. Founded in 1862 by Belgian Jesuit John Genon, he took on virtually the same territory that St. Peter Claver Parish is still responsible for and what has become essentially the Toledo District of Southern Belize. Our Birthday Mass and seaside picnic were both extremely well-attended. And if I may be so bold, I do, in fact, feel the lifting of a malaise that has gripped our parish for quite some time.