By Helena Allum
Parishioners and friends of Holy Rosary and St Martin de Porres in Gonzales were at the home of the Panorama Champions, BP Renegades on Charlotte Street, East Port of Spain. We had gathered February 28 for the second night of our Panyard Retreats.
These retreats have been part of our Lenten calendar for some 15-plus years, every year, one night at Trinidad All Stars, another at BP Renegades, and yet another at WITCO Desperadoes (Despers). All have been Panorama Champions in recent years.
This year has been declared a ‘Year of Love’ by Soca Monarch winner, Aaron ‘Voice’ St Louis, and the theme of love has been adopted for all the retreats at Holy Rosary. As usual, Grace Ministries led the music ministry and prepared us for preacher, Fr Robert Christo.
After thanking God for the gift of the steel band and for Renegades, Fr Christo affirmed that the word of God must be enthroned in our hearts. And he enthroned it in the panyard that evening.
As part of this rite, parishioners walked around the panyard with the Bible and lighted candles held high. Long, coloured ribbons marking the chosen readings in the Bible added to the solemnity and beauty of the rite. At the end of the procession, the Bible and candles were placed on a front table. This rite is meant to remind us of the importance of the Word in our life.
The Transfiguration and God’s call to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac were the readings at Mass the previous Sunday. Fr Christo referred to these readings, assuring us that “God does not stop loving”. God gives all, and we must give back all.
Jesus allowed the disciples to get a glimpse of his Transfiguration to prepare them for His death and for their own deaths. In his trade mark blunt style Fr Christo said, “Other people God doh dead, but our God died. He died alone; He died a very violent death.”
He reminded us that Scripture says, “If you love me you will keep my commandments”, and explained that we are often concerned with pleasure, profit, pride, possession, prestige, power. Sometimes in doing so we go against the commandments of God. The commandments ask us to be concerned with the least, the last, the lost, the little, the lonely.
“Whatever is preventing you from obeying the commandments is your god,” Fr Christo emphasised.
He was passionate about passing on our faith to our children. “We have to train our children. Children deserve the right to know God. Parents have a responsibility to give children love.” He was adamant that we teach children that “obedience brings blessings while disobedience brings blight.” His sentiments won applause and “amens” not only from those in the congregation but also from persons looking through the windows of the Charford Court apartments overlooking the panyard.
Karline Brathwaite, a dancer with the Ibis T&T Performers encapsulated all Fr Christo’s words in her dance to the Nigerian Gospel song ‘Imela’ which means ‘Thank You’. The song says in part: “It’s not because I am worthy/to receive the kind of love that You give/But I’m grateful for Your mercy/and I’m grateful for Your grace.”
Renegades’ young members played ‘Year for Love’. Before they did so, Fr Christo walked around the panyard once more, this time with the Blessed Sacrament, as he prayed for God’s blessings on East Port of Spain.
On the last night of our Panyard Retreats we moved to the Tragarete Road temporary home of WITCO Desperadoes. Here Atherly Nicholas of Grace Ministeries was the preacher. Continuing the theme of love, he shared his own story of how the love of his parents shaped and directed his life. “Men understand this,” he said, “women can love and love and love but when daddy does so, it takes on a whole new meaning. We have problems today because people can’t relate to Father.”
He feels that we have removed God from our lives and no longer lift up virtuous people. “People afraid to stand up for what is right because we afraid to love, because love has a price.”
Like Fr Christo, Atherly pointed out examples of our not teaching our children the right values and not teaching them to love. He added, “because of an increase in lawlessness, people stop loving each other. We have allowed lawlessness to control us. Today what is bad is considered good.”
Here in Despers’ yard we heard again their beautiful version of ‘Year for Love’. And as we savoured all these messages of love we prayed that the love continue way beyond this year. Hopefully Despers will be able to move back up the Hill. And maybe some of Lloyd Best’s ideas of the role that panyards can play in a community will come to light.