On the first October this year, Fr Chris Llanos SJ, of the Canadian province, became Regional Superior of Guyana which will now include the Jesuit communities in both Jamaica and Barbados.
Tell us a little bit about who you are?
I come from a family in Trinidad and Tobago. My father migrated to Canada when I was young and the rest of us joined him not long afterwards, so I finished my high school education in Canada. I then went on to do my first degree which was in Psychology in Calgary. I joined the Society of Jesus in 1986 and did my novitiate there, which was the last thing I did in Canada. I did my Philosophy in Chicago and then I was approached by a Jesuit working in Jamaica and asked to come back to the Caribbean, which I did and since then I have been associated with the Caribbean. From there I went on to do my Theology in Caracas in Venezuela for four years. Then I did my doctorate in Religion and Society at Harvard University where I specialised in Immigration Policy and Ethics. I then came back to Jamaica where I worked as Novice Director in formation. I was also made superior of one of the communities in Jamaica, and then six years later I was made regional superior of Jamaica. So I come to Guyana having been a superior for twelve years.
What are you most looking forward to about being the new Regional Superior of Guyana and Jamaica?
I have the task of bringing together Guyana, Barbados and Jamaica and creating a common sense of mission among these three countries in the Caribbean, which will be quite a challenge. Even though there has been quite a collaboration over the years between the countries; Jamaica has had Jesuits working in Barbados in spirituality for example. On an island it can be easy to be insular, which is not good for Jesuit vocation. We need a wider perspective and to be a part of a wider mission. I am looking forward to understanding and meeting the interior missions in person. I actually had a desire to work in Guyana in my early years in the Society and my fascination and desire is still there rooted in a care from God.
What do you think will be your biggest challenge in this new role?
Making sure that I follow where God is calling and leading us, and to keep listening to the movement of the spirit and being open to and responding to all that I see and hear. It can be a challenge to be able to discern God’s voice among all the other voices. There is then the practical challenge of having a poverty of resources. The GDP per capita is low in both Guyana and Jamaica, so we are a poor church financially. There is also the human resource challenge of having small populations. Guyana, Jamaica and Barbados have the smallest Catholic populations within the Caribbean. We are too small to be working alone, so we need to look at how we can work as part of the wider society and having a hope and mission together with other Christian communities.
What is your previous experience in Guyana?
When I was in Trinidad and Tobago, I came under the Regional Superior of Guyana, so I have made many visits to the coastal region for regional meetings. I have also made a brief visit to the interior region of the Pakaraimas. But I definitely know the Jesuits here more than I know Guyana as a country.
What do you see for the future of the Jesuits in Guyana?
I’m still getting used to my new role. I need to spend time in each place where Jesuits are in Guyana and listen to what is going on in their hearts. Visiting Guyana is very different to being the Regional Superior. I was told when I became Superior of Jamaica to “take your time to listen and don’t change anything for a year”. As we only have two or three years to create one region and create a sense of common missions I might not have that luxury of waiting a year, but I will certainly take my time to listen and not rush into any decisions.
Why is the Pan-Amazonian synod called by Pope Francis next year so important for Guyana?
Guyana is part of a world where exploitation of people and nature is taking place. The Amazon region has a key effect on the world symbolically and also with regards to climate change and pollution. The first nation people in Guyana make up a larger percentage of Guyana’s population than it does of any other country in the Americas. Protection of the rainforest is key for the Guyanese nation and is a priority for the church and the Jesuits. The Amerindians are most vulnerable to exploitation and outside interests. How the church serves the Amerindians is critical. We must be conscious of what we want to do and discern in the spirit of God. We are a small group and we can’t do everything so that is why it is vital that the little part we are able to contribute should be as effective as possible.