Virgin Islands Catholic leaders who were in attendance at Pope Francis’s events in the United States in September said they were surprised at the great number of people the pope attracted, but they were not surprised by his message.
Bishop Herbert Bevard of the St. Thomas Diocese traveled to Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia for the papal visit.
Andrea Shillingford, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Virgin Islands, went to Philadelphia to hear the pope’s message. Shillingford traveled with 10 children from the St. Thomas Holy Family Church Youth Cultural Dancers, and said they had such an amazing time they are hoping to do another trip to see the Pope in 2018 in Dublin.
“The enthusiasm of the massive crowds was inspirational,” Bevard said. “For me the whole thing was an amazing experience, as always with the Holy Father.”
Shillingford said it was an awesome feeling seeing so many people with love and understanding in their hearts.
“The papal visit was an extremely spiritual experience for me,” Shillingford said. “It was just amazing, I didn’t know what to expect.”
Recently the two discussed the issues relevant to the Virgin Islands about which the pope spoke to the masses. They mentioned his comments on climate change, immigration and poverty.
“We need to care for the environment that was created for us,” Bevard said on climate change. “We all have to be caretakers of these beautiful islands that provide a livelihood for many people. We must be very attentive.”
Shillingford said that for future generations, people need to go back to the ways things were in the past, with people being aware of taking care of the earth and using it properly.
“We need to revisit the way we do things here,” Shillingford said. “Planting their own gardens is a way for people to take care of the earth that God created. Going back to the garden can lead to good things.”
On immigration, Bevard said the U.S. Virgin Islands receives a lot of people from other islands. He added they arrive with very little and we are reminded of a duty to be charitable to immigrants.
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph were immigrants when they fled to Egypt,” he said. “All of us trace our ancestry to immigrants.”
Shillingford said she believes people will always look for a better way of life and that the United States has to find a way to make immigration work and to manage it.
“America was built on immigration,” Shillingford added. “We need to find ways to manage it effectively.”
Bevard said it’s unacceptable when so many are living in poverty in the Virgin Islands and they are living next door to luxury and abundance.
He said Catholic Charities is proactive and has magnificent food kitchens and shelters on St. Croix and St. Thomas.
“Catholic Charities is the best kept secret providing a real act of charity for all. There is great concern for the poor.”
Shillingford said there will always be poverty and it must be recognized and dealt with.
“People should help any way they can,” she said. “They can volunteer if they can’t give money. Catholic Charities is always looking for volunteers.” She added there is always the local homeless population to serve.
“Every homeless person is God’s creation and we are our brother’s keepers,” Shillingford said. “Virgin Islanders take care of our own.”