In Jamaica, devotion to Mary is common, but Jesus is the way

  • Holy Name of Jesus church, Kingston

In more common Jamaican Pentecostal parlance, “the saints” are the saved, living persons who belong to the church. The saints in the European sense have no real role in that tradition and a far more limited role in the lives of Jamaican Catholics than is true in most of the rest of the world. 

This should perhaps surprise us in a culture whose traditional imaginary is full of duppies and the spirits of Obeah. Catholic parishes are usually named after saints, and some had statues of them on the grounds, or prayers attributed to saints in their hymnals, but among the lay people interviewed for this project, traditional European saints were peripheral or an afterthought. They were cited neither as intercessors nor as models; Jesus is the way.

The primary exception to this is to Mary. Here devotion is significant, though not nearly as strong as in many European and Iberian-influenced cultures. Catholic churches in Jamaica feature some statues of Mary, and Mary crownings are popular at parishes. Some interviewees knew of a friend or family member who had a statue at home of who prayed the rosary, but more often they remembered it as something that their parents or grandparents did. Many do include a Hail Mary among their prayers, but most were careful to say that Jesus definitely takes first place in their lives, and Mary follows as a mother figure who is important because she said yes to enable Jesus to come into the world.