BY BROOKSI HUDSON
HILTON HEAD ISLAND — Father Gregory Ramkissoon visited St. Francis by the Sea Parish Nov. 4-6 to talk about the plight of abandoned children and the poor in Caribbean and African countries.
Father Ramkissoon founded the first Mustard Seed Community in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1978 after witnessing the abandonment of handicapped children by their families — a practice long accepted in that culture, according to the priest. He took in as many of the abandoned children as he could on his own. When he realized that the problem wasn’t going to go away, the first Mustard Seed Community was born. Since then, Mustard Seed communities have been founded in Nicaragua, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Zimbabwe.
“Mustard Seed’s objective is to promote the enrichment and empowerment of the spiritually, psychologically, and financially poor that live in urban communities, to assist them in leaving the cycles of frustration and hopelessness that dominate their lives,” according to the charity’s mission statement.
During Father Ramkissoon’s three days with St. Francis parishioners, he appealed for donations of furniture, bedding, clothing — anything that is needed to make a home for children. He also visited each classroom at St. Francis School.
“The children had been collecting pennies, dimes and nickels to present to Father when he came,” said Joan Carey, former parish administrator and Mustard Seed volunteer. “It is a great way of developing stewardship in the children, and they love when Father comes. He is so good with the children.”
Carey described the priest as an amazing man.
“When he tells the stories of the abandoned children, people are always in tears,” she said. “He has the ability to really communicate on a level where people can understand and relate.”
A native of Trinidad, Father Ramkissoon opened his most recent community in Zimbabwe where a large number of the children are afflicted with AIDS. The communities are set up to keep them for their entire lives if necessary, making the need for support overwhelming.
“The Jamaican government has given Father a piece of land and he is in the process of building on the land right now,” Carey said. “My job has been to find people who can provide either one-time or ongoing support. It is these contributions that keep the project alive.”
Carey estimates that the total monetary need for the Mustard Seed Communities worldwide is in the millions, and since there is virtually no government assistance in most of the countries, Father Ramkissoon relies on the contributions of individuals around the world.
Through Father Ramkissoon’s influence, St. Thomas House in Jamaica has been established. The group of laypersons, priests, sisters, and brothers have committed their lives to the aid of abandoned, handicapped, brutalized, and marginalized individuals.
“His influence has truly been felt around the world,” said Carey. “He is one of the most godly men I have ever met. The secret to his success is the hours that he spends in adoration each morning. Even before the Blessed Sacrament he has already spent hours in prayer.”
For information on Mustard Seed Communities, or to make a contribution, visit the Web site at www.mustardseed.com.