St. Maarten: Poverty in Paradise

For those of us who work in the office here at Cross International Catholic Outreach, it’s a treat when one of our partners from across the globe pays us a visit. We were pleasantly surprised when Father Bob Johnson stopped by on the way back to St. Maarten. He led our morning staff prayer and devotion time, and shared some firsthand insights from the field.

Fr. Bob said he’s often asked, “How’d you get this gig in St. Maarten—did you win the lottery?” It’s an innocent but mistaken assumption that he works in paradise. It’s a favorite tourist destination with breathtaking beaches, and ritzy resorts, nightclubs and casinos.

Fr. Bob Johnson ministers to the marginalized in St. Maarten.

Outside the tourist district, however, is stark poverty. That’s where Fr. Bob lives and works. But it’s not just material poverty that’s a problem in St. Maarten and other Caribbean countries. “Poverty has more of a face than just the physical,” he explained. “Part of the essence of the Caribbean people is spiritual. When you are of a people who has been enslaved for 300 years, being told you are not a person, it takes twice that time to purge it from the people’s psyche.”

With the global economy affecting tourism, unemployment in St. Maarten is at an all-time high, and it’s made the problems of drugs, crime, and hunger worse than ever. Yet resources to help the suffering are few and far between. “We’re reaching out to those who are marginalized and falling through the cracks,” Fr. Bob said. Since 2007 Cross Catholic has been helping Fr. Bob and St. Martin of Tours Parish provide food supplies to nearly 300 needy families.  Click here to learn more.