Archbishop Joseph Harris reflects
By Simone Delochan, firstname.lastname@example.org
“Exciting.” That was the word used by Archbishop Joseph Harris to describe his six years as Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Port of Spain in an interview immediately after the October 19 press conference announcing his successor.
When installed in 2011, one of his intentions, he said, was to “bring a level of calm, of unity, and I wanted to see what I could do to get the education system moving properly”. In this regard much work has been done which is now “beginning to bear fruit”: “quality assurance programmes; teachers are better able to dedicate themselves…[and] We have a good board of management”.
There were two other plans, one of which is already in the works but stymied by slow process. “We are waiting on land to set up a facility for first offenders…we finally did it. They showed us the land and now to get the land transferred is another task.” The second plan is for an agricultural facility, “to get people in love with the land once again” but once more they are “waiting on government”.
The disunity at national level, and many of the ills manifesting are, His Grace avers, rooted in the education system, and politicians who are more self-oriented than country facing. In a wider post-colonial context, he observed that: “Eric Williams never put into place a programme of nation building, so we have remained a nation of minorities. We have never learned to love ourselves…People are not happy in their skins and that is a big issue education is not dealing with.”
From the macrocosm of nation to Church embedded in society, he admits that some changes are needed in the Church community. His pastoral letter, Return to Hospitality, published during the 2017 Lenten season, emerged out of Pope Francis’ words, “…people are converted, not because of doctrine, but because they like where they are going to, and people like where they are going when people make them feel happy and wanted”. The Church, he added, has not been very good at that, and young people especially, have not felt wanted in a Church environment where “people hog things and don’t want young people to be part of it”.
There is a larger issue as well of re-visioning the local Church. “The Church has to become far more imaginative to everything. We try to solve the problems of the 21st century with the solutions of the 19th century and we were taught to look to Europe and the United States for the solutions.”
To this end, structures are necessary to permit people to speak, and the solutions will come from “the belly of the Church”. Support of structures that mitigate against the laity’s speaking, is to deny the voice of the Holy Spirit which is given to everyone equally: the pope, cardinals, priests, nuns and the laity. He believes that for people to have greater participation and voice in the Church, more ministries have to be built.
Now that he is transitioning out, he feels ambivalence. On one hand there is relief as he has been in what he describes as an interregnum [limbo], “You want to make plans but you can’t.” He has stayed as archbishop for only six months after submitting his resignation to Rome in March (he turned 75 on March 19) but sometimes, Rome can take up to a year to decide on a new Archbishop, so in this regard he is fortunate.
The other side of the relief however is based in the letter and spirit of theology: “The theology of the episcopate is that the bishop is married to his diocese. So, I suppose, like any husband, if you separate from your wife, you experience sadness…”
His immediate goal, once the Archbishop-elect is installed in December, is to get some much needed rest. “There are plenty things I wanted to do that I have not been able to. I would like to go with my brother on a cruise somewhere, and just relax.”