Liturgy School 2018
March 16, 2018
The unconvincing WEST INDIES
March 16, 2018

Archbishop Pantin, the founder

Archbishop Pantin led the Church in a way that included everyone

Your Grace, Why did you use the crozier of Archbishop Anthony Pantin for your Installation? 

God gives a special spirit and grace to founders. Their pastoral actions hold the seeds of hope for future generations. In the Church we speak of the spirit of the founders. Most religious congregations focus on recapturing that spirit. In my opinion Archbishop Gordon Anthony Pantin was given the vocation and charism of setting our archdiocese on new ecclesial, cultural and social foundations. In this sense I treat him like a founder of the local Church although our diocese had its first bishop in 1822 and became an archdiocese in 1850.

Pre-Pantin Era

Catholics who are old enough will remember the towering figure of Archbishop Count Finbar Ryan— a man much feared and respected—when the practice of the faith was distinguished by a particular vibrancy. Great uniformity and strict observance of the practice of the faith was universal.

The Second Vatican Council (1962–1965) led to wide-ranging reforms in Liturgy, in the understanding of Church and its theology, interreligious dialogue and ecumenism—to name a few areas. Some laid great stress on the council as a rupture with the past, others on its reforms. And, there were those who believed the Council was in error and led the Church astray.

At the council, Archbishop Ryan and his good friend Archbishop Charles McQuaid objected to the direction of the council. They even refused to attend an interreligious service with the Holy Father. In a letter of resignation to the Holy See Archbishop Ryan confessed to not understanding or agreeing with the reforms of Pope John XXIII.

We became an independent nation in this era and the heady winds of nationalism were blowing through the region. Internationally, the 1968 Cultural Revolution gripped the western world. Change was happening in the Church, in the newly independent Trinidad and Tobago and the wider world.

The Pantin Era

THE CHURCH: At 38 years old, the newly consecrated archbishop had to bring deep reform to the Church in Trinidad and Tobago, while keeping continuity with the essentials of the Catholic tradition. Although the local diocesan Fathers and the Benedictines embraced the council, a great many in the archdiocese were ambivalent at best or hostile, at worst, to the mandates of the council. He had to hold the impossible together.

The pastoral and ecclesial agenda of the young local clergy, schooled in Vatican II, and the Irish Dominicans were very different. A lesser man would not have been able to hold these tensions and bring resolution. Archbishop Pantin did, at a high price to himself. He spoke to me about a meeting of the clergy where they all blamed him for everything that was wrong in the Church. This was his dark night. It tested his mettle and he emerged a stronger man.

BLACK POWER: One year after he became archbishop, Black Power erupted on the streets of Port of Spain, which had repercussions for the whole society. As recently as the 1940s, leading companies would include in an ad for a position: “Blacks need not apply”. The presumption of racial superiority of the whites and inferiority of the blacks was thoroughly challenged in a most dramatic way in 1970. The society was recalibrating its social and moral compass.

Archbishop Pantin led the Church in a way that included everyone. It was a home for black and white, rich and poor, East Indian, Chinese and Syrian alike. He held to the gospel values when others wanted recrimination and reverse racism. In the turmoil he managed to engage everyone and not become a puppet or ideologue for either side.

The Pantin Legacy

In the turbulence, in Church and Nation, the archbishop led with grace and ease, doing what the Trinidadian is good at, making subtle points and important pronouncements with humour and wit.

During the 32 years of his tenure, Archbishop Pantin led the Church to inculturation, while keeping step with the Church universal: to inclusion of laity in the mission and ministry of the Church, in a way that has caused it to stand out from many other dioceses in the world.

Leading the way in interreligious dialogue and ecumenism, he was a founding member of the Inter-Religious Organisation and the energy behind it until he died. When he went to live at Laventille he proposed a model of leadership where the leader lived at the periphery among the most marginalised. When he moved back to Archbishop’s House, the poor and marginalised moved with him. Solidarity with the poor and marginalised characterised his life.

Archbishop Pantin wore the Office lightly, but with dignity, fully aware of the responsibility and authority it carried. He was a man of deep simplicity and spirituality. He was ‘All things to all people’. I used his crozier because he is my model and guide.

Key Message: By studying, meditating on and emulating the spirit of founders we can recapture their energy and vision for our time. Archbishop Pantin was the founder of our local Church, his vision, spirit and energy are vital to leading the Church through the turbulent times that we are already facing.

Action Step: Reflect on the life of Archbishop Pantin and see how far we have moved from his ideals and values and how much these ideals and values have influenced us.

Scripture 1 Cor 4:14–17