A little over 14 years ago the Bishop of Belize, Bishop Osmond Martin, invited the Claretians in the United Kingdom and Ireland to work in a small town in Central Belize, on the Caribbean coast. Subsequently the Claretians accepted the Bishop’s invitation and assumed pastoral care of the parish of Dangriga on 1st September 2002.
Background Information on the Country of Belize
Belize is a small country, just 8,867 sq. miles, in Central America. It is 170 miles from north to south and 68 miles from east to west. The climate is sub-tropical, tempered by trade winds. Rainfall varies from 51 inches in the north to 175 inches in the south. The dry season is from February to May. The temperature goes from 50 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter months (Dec. to Feb.) to 95 degrees Fahrenheit during most of the rest of the year. It is very humid. The entire north and the southern coastal areas are lowland plains, with much of the coastline covered with mangrove swamp.Belize has a population of about 225,000 and has a population density of 24 people per sq. mile. Life expectancy is 72 years for females and 68 years for males. Key indicators include a GNP per capita of US$2,359; an adult literacy rate of 75 percent and the percent of children finishing primary school is 54%. Over 90% of children are immunized against the six most dangerous diseases; over 83% of the population have access to a safe drinking water supply and 39% to proper sanitation.Belize was a British Colony that was granted its independence in 1981. British forces finally left the country in 1994, but continue to use it for jungle warfare training. It relies heavily on agricultural exports, tourism, construction and foreign aid. Unemployment and underemployment levels are high, with severe skills shortages in all sectors. More than 50 per cent of the total population is under 18 years of age.In recent years there has been an increase of immigrants from other Central American Countries, mostly Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Consequently, although the official language of the country is English, Garifuna, Spanish and Q’eqchi’ are also spoken by significant numbers of people. Refugee and immigrant groups tend to live in the rural areas and are the most poorly served for social services such as health and education.
Most primary schools and a third of secondary schools are locally managed by various religious denominations, mostly Catholic. Rural schools fair worst. The children in them are only half as successful as their urban counterparts. The Mayan Indians, urban and rural, fare worst of all groups in all measures.
The ethnic mix of population (1991 census) in Belize is very mixed. 43.6% is Mestizo (Spanish/Indian), 29.8% is Creole, 11.1% is Maya (about 30% of which is Q’eqchi’), 6.6% is Garifuna, 3.5% East Indian, 3.1% Mennonite and 2.2% other. Since 1991 there has been a significant immigration from Asia, mainly from Taiwan and China. The religious mix is 57.7% Catholic, 6.9% Anglican, others include Pentecostals, Methodists, Adventists and Mennonites.
It was not until 1871 that British Honduras was formally declared a British colony. The country’s name was changed to Belize in 1973 and full independence was achieved on September 21st 1981.
Some specific information about Stann Creek District
The largest town in Stann Creek District is Dangriga. It takes its name from the local Garifuna language, loosely meaning, “standing waters”. Dangriga lies on the bank of the North Stann Creek River. The Garifuna, a cultural hybrid of escaped African slaves and Caribbean Indians, settled it in the early 19th century. According to a tourist book, “The town itself has few obvious attractions, although it is pleasant to stroll around. There are a few cheap hotels, restaurants and raunchy bars in the centre of town. Two miles out of town is a toweringly ugly monument to the Garifuna.” Dangriga is the largest Garifuna settlement in Belize. In 1991 6,435 people lived in the town of Dangriga, 11,650 lived in the rural area of Stann Creek District.
The Claretians have the pastoral care for all the people living in the Stann Creek District. Two Claretians work in Dangriga fulfilling a variety of ministries, responding to the needs of the local community.
Several other Claretians have been working in the area; among them Fr. Christ Newman, cmf and the late Brother Denis Casey cmf..
We ask you to continue to pray for the fruitfulness of this venture.