Tomorrow, Monday, will mark the 18th anniversary of Archbishop Anthony Pantin’s death. René Jerome Wihby, an educator, catechist, lector, choir member and parishioner of St Paul’s Parish, Couva, remembers the late Archbishop.
I met the late Archbishop Pantin around the age of 12 while serving as an acolyte (altar server) at Our Lady of Perpetual Help (OLPH) Parish in San Fernando. One Saturday afternoon, I knocked on the back door of the old, wooden presbytery and was greeted by the late archbishop. I experienced a gamut of emotions and greeted him with ‘His Grace’ instead of ‘Your Grace.’ In fact, I said both.
At this juncture, he smiled, asked for my name and allowed me to enter the presbytery. Subsequent to this first meeting, every time the late archbishop and I met he addressed me by name.
Another fond memory of the late archbishop is when His Eminence, Cardinal Francis Arinze visited Trinidad and Tobago. As part of the cardinal’s official visit, he celebrated Mass at OLPH Parish. At that time, I was the president of the acolytes and was busy ensuring that everyone (altar servers) was in place for the Mass.
As I entered the sacristy, I had observed that the door to the interior chamber was closed and without thinking, I opened it. Standing behind the door were Cardinal Arinze, Papal Nuncio Archbishop Manuel Monteiro de Castro, Archbishop Pantin, bishops and members of the clergy. I apologised profusely to these goodly gentlemen for intruding on their privacy and as I was about to leave the chamber, the late archbishop invited me to stay. Because of him, I met the cardinal and was allowed to assist him as he vested for Holy Mass.
Although Archbishop Pantin was an extremely busy person he always had time to greet members of his flock. He personally answered telephone calls before 7.30 a.m. He was a genuine person as he listened to your concerns and tried to alleviate your anxiety.
One day, I sought his intervention. I did not need an appointment at Archbishop’s House to see him because he listened and advised me over the phone. A couple of weeks after this conversation, I discovered that he suffered a personal loss as his mother had died.
On the day of the funeral, I greeted him in the sacristy to convey my condolences. I was touched by what he did next. In his grief, he had time to ask me about my matter. He was a selfless man.
I will never forget how Archbishop Pantin was a beacon of hope for our beloved country during the attempted coup d’état in 1990. Most of us, at that time, probably had our ears glued to the radio stations to get updates on what unfolded in Port of Spain. I fondly remember his voice on the radio when he sang our National Anthem with gusto. He gave our nation hope.
Archbishop’s House was open to everyone especially First Communion students and their catechists. His jokes were corny but the children loved them. Another of my favourite memories of these visits is when he asked the children (as many as possible) to sit in a big chair. Afterwards, he indicated that a priest had died in the chair. He enjoyed playing this joke on them as they scampered off laughing and screaming.
I do not think there will be another man quite like Archbishop Anthony Pantin. He was unique and exuded the virtues of the beatitudes. I always felt the presence of God whenever he was around. His humility, compassion and mercy were astounding.
Archbishop Anthony Pantin, Servant of God, pray for us. Amen.
It is all God’s work
This poem by Wihby was recited at the Children’s Rally at the Hasely Crawford Stadium on Friday, March 24, 2000 in memory of Archbishop Pantin.
As I thank God for the life of a great man,
Who stood for justice and peace on our nation,
He was the 8th Archbishop of Port of Spain,
He was Gordon Anthony Pantin.
Whenever there was discord in our land,
He was never too busy to lend a hand,
To speak out against corruption and confusion,
He offered up instead unity, peace and salvation.
A shepherd who led his flock to the end,
Affirmed the pride of the local Church in our land.
He would say “You are a Catholic be proud of your faith,
Shout it out loud and make no mistake.
Let everybody know you belong to Jesus, God’s son,
That because of Him our victory was won.”
A man who was so genuine in every way,
Whenever you met him you felt the hand of God that day,
He was so humble, sincere, loving and kind,
Whose qualities may be quite difficult to find.
He was a friend to the rich and to the poor,
And was never too busy to open his door,
A letter, a phone call is all you needed to do,
He would have responded to your call without further ado.
He served his country, his people, and his Church through it all.
As all of us who mourn his death will recall.
So smile, lift up your head, and shake off that gloomy look,
For if he can speak to us now he would be saying, “It is all God’s work.”