HIS Grace Archbishop Robert Rivas says the Catholic Church is not against the Desert Star Holding (DSH) project and that it welcomes the policy decision to conduct feasibility studies and Environment Impact Assessments (EIA) by the government.
He said the Church was ready to move forward with the government and communities in the interest of nation-building, development and progress for a better St. Lucia.
The Archbishop also sought forgiveness of anyone offended by his statement released recently which spoke about the DSH project and its impact on residents in Bruceville and Bacadere in Vieux Fort and the surrounding environment, especially Pointe Sable Beach.
“In a spirit of reconciliation and peace, we ask forgiveness of anyone who was offended by our solidarity with the local community and, likewise, we offer forgiveness to all who were less than charitable in their comments and interventions,” Rivas said.
The statement drew heated comments from several quarters, including from parishioners.
Rivas, in that statement, said it was incumbent upon the Church, within the context of caring for the people and assuming its responsibility, to be a moral voice on social issues, to take a stand on possible displacement of persons and their livelihoods who occupy and operate around the DSH investment site, drawing specific attention to residents of Bruceville and Bacadere and persons living near the proposed Equine Disease Free Zone.
He also criticized the DSH Framework Agreement, saying it gave the Master Developer “absolute discretion” to engage and/or terminate” the procurement of labour contracts. The Archbishop warned there could be damage and depletion to cultural and natural resources as a result of the DSH project, and questioned the once-proposed causeway from Point Sable Beach to Maria Islands.
He spoke about the landfill in Vieux Fort, claiming that one proposed site for consideration of relocation was in close proximity to a freshwater source in the community of La Retraite.
Other areas, he commented on in his statement, were the NICE programme, health care, violent crime and the Church’s position on such issues.
The Archbishop seemingly redoubled on comments he made in his statement when in a meeting with government ministers chaired by the then acting Prime Minister, Lenard Montoute, Minister for Equity, Social Justice, Youth Development, Sports and Local Government, last week Wednesday, several inaccuracies in his statement were shown to him.
That meeting prompted a response from him contained in a letter to Montoute dated May 8, 2017 in which he said the intention of his statement was to highlight the concerns of the local community regarding social issues impacting their community and that the statement was not meant to be political.
“It was meant to be a voice for citizens grappling with the impact of the development on their communities. In these matters, the Church is guided by her Catholic Social Teachings which stressed that participation in the life of the community and the country is an essential component of authentic development,” Rivas said.
Apart from supporting the DSH project, Rivas said the Church was happy with the conversation with government representatives last week and that it desires to maintain an open channel of communication on any future issues that may arise.
He added that the Church was happy to collaborate with the government wherever it serves her mission of spreading the gospel in caring for the poor, the vulnerable, the youth and the elderly of the nation and to join the government in addressing the issues of violence, health care, unemployment, crime and any other social ills.
The Archbishop called on government to continue to host meetings with the surrounding communities so that they will be kept well-informed of the process, the possible impact and also benefits from the potential employment that the project may generate.
The Archbishop, meanwhile, will have to deal with a storm brewing over one of his priests, Father Kevin Murray, of the Vieux Fort parish, who has been active in protests action against the DSH project called by the Vieux Fort Concerned Citizens Coalition for Change (VFCCCC).
Aside from reservations expressed by many about Murray’s involvement in these protest actions, businessman Michael Chastanet, father to Prime Minister Allen Chastanet, called him out on his talk show “Open Mike” last Sunday for his public stance on the DSH project.
Chastanet said Murray should stick to activities relating to Church mission go back to his home country, America.
The government has since distanced itself from the businessman’s comments, stating that St. Lucia is a free and democratic country and all are entitled to free speech in accordance with St. Lucia’s laws.