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October 24, 2017
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October 27, 2017

T&T’s development challenge

By Lara Pickford-Gordon

The problem of murders in Trinidad and Tobago isn’t primarily a problem of “the people on the hill. The problem is a societal problem,” said Archbishop-elect Charles Jason Gordon, in an interview with the Catholic News last Tuesday.

Archbishop-elect Gordon, 58, will become the first diocesan archbishop for this Archdiocese when his Mass of installation is celebrated Wednesday, December 27 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. All previous archbishops belonged to religious orders or congregations.

He was announced as the successor to Archbishop Joseph Harris at a press briefing at Archbishop’s House on October 19. Due to the vacancy left with this appointment, he will continue as Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Bridgetown, Barbados.

T&T is currently struggling with a high murder rate among other issues.  Regarding how he will guide the local Church to bring light to society, he replied the high number of murders has been a “perennial” problem for many years.

Working in Gonzales, when he was the parish priest of Holy Rosary, Port of Spain/St Martin de Porres, Gonzales, gave him a “unique perspective”. It allowed him the opportunity to understand the lives of “people on the fringes”, gangs and the challenges of an urban community.

“We have not developed all our people and in fact, have left pockets of deep underdevelopment next to pockets of incredible affluence. That is a significant challenge,” Archbishop-elect Gordon said via a WhatsApp telephone interview.

Citing Susan Craig’s Community Development in Trinidad and Tobago 1943-1973 (1974) he said, a system of “patronage as opposed to a system of development …has eaten away at the heart of our country.” Every citizen has a right to receive what they need to develop to their fullest potential however under a system of patronage “it is not a right they have anymore but it is an accommodation if you support this group or you support that group”.

Archbishop-elect Gordon observed this thinking filters to the top and seen in which companies are awarded contracts and even how people exercised their democratic right.

“It is not exercised with free conscience or a matter of what is best for the country; it is exercised as ‘which one of these will serve me best’. We have corrupted the democratic process right at the very core, the very heart.” He believed this is one of the big challenges facing the country.

Archbishop-elect Gordon said, “You cannot separate the violence from the rugged liberal capitalist model that T&T has adopted where we have thrown out the baby with the bath water.” He contrasted this with the social democracy of the past when things like education and health were ensured and citizens “were working hard” towards this. Archbishop-elect Gordon commented that under the liberal capitalist model, earning profit has become more important than the development of people.

“This is another way of corrupting our psyche. So we have some deep challenges that come down to character, values and ethics but we have some deep philosophical challenges also because we have made some big decisions that have taken our society in the wrong direction, a direction that has created the problems that we are now lamenting.”

The Archbishop-elect has given himself six months to learn “what is what” since he has been based overseas six years as the Bishop of Bridgetown, and Kingstown, St Vincent and the Grenadines, the latter up until last year.

“I really have to learn Trinidad and the Archdiocese of Port of Spain again before I start talking what I may or may not be doing”.  Archbishop-elect Gordon did say “in principle” he agreed with the cluster system and it was “a great step” because it brought together priests using their gifts and talents to build up the body of Christ. He added, “I’m going to have to work with it for six months before seeing where I can strengthen it, if it’s possible to strengthen and how to help move it forward. I don’t have an agenda as far as that is concerned.”

On another issue, Archbishop-elect Gordon said the core business of Catholic education is “formation business”. He was asked to share his views on the teaching of Religious Education in Catholic schools and informed of the absence of a dedicated teacher for this subject in the education system.

Speaking generally he said formation involved the “whole” person and took into consideration character, civics, spirituality, academics, emotional and intellectual intelligence. “If that’s the core business then the school has to be staffed and the curriculum adjusted to ensure the core business is being done,” Archbishop-elect Gordon said.

As a student of Fatima College during the tenure of Clive Pantin (deceased) as principal, schooling was “a formation process”.  This happened through Mass every morning which he attended as a member of the Sea Scouts along with other students; as a student of Religious Education from Forms I-VI; and a participant in the daily Angelus.

The bell rang at noon for the Angelus and all students stopped, even if they were on the football field, to pray. Afterwards activities resumed. Archbishop-elect Gordon recalled that Pantin introduced an “activity period” on Wednesdays in which students could learn from a coach or teacher something they were interested in. He said Pantin understood Catholic education was about formation of the person and providing an opportunity for the child to grow and develop.

“I would say that’s my vision and we would have to staff towards the vision. I don’t know the strategy because I don’t know the reality right now. We will have to figure it out,” he said.  MORE IN NEXT WEEK’S ISSUE