By Lara Pickford-Gordon firstname.lastname@example.org
Fifty years ago regular Masses began at Our Lady of the Sea Chapel, Gasparee island. Holy Ghost Fathers Claude Montes de Oca, Martin O’Dwyer and Anthony de Verteuil alternated Masses on Sunday mornings. Only Fr de Verteuil is left and today, Masses occur on Saturday afternoons. He faithfully maintains the routine despite not being as agile as his younger days. The Catholic News joined Fr de Verteuil for Mass on March 11 and reports on the experience.
The sun is shining and it is a breezy beautiful day to go to Mass ‘down the islands’. Kaelanne Jordan, Writer/Copy Editor, Simone Delochan, Writer/Copy Editor and I arrive at Island Property Owners’ Association Marina just after 4 p.m. to meet Fr Anthony. We are instructed to wait at benches near the jetty.
At 4.20 p.m. he ambles towards us walking stick in hand and we exchange greetings. We are going to Gasparee on the Rosa Mystica—mystic rose, a title given to Mary, which is manned by Marcus. The boat gently bobs on the water as it comes close to the pier. Marcus assists Fr Anthony and the one or two of us unaccustomed to stepping off dry land to get into the boat.
Marcus says the trip should take about ten minutes at the speed the pirogue is going with the rough water; he says the journey “normally” takes five to seven minutes, but if the boat went faster we would all get soaked. The wind direction determines the character of the sea. From the south it makes the sea very rough compared with the easterly gusts.
Rosa Mystica moves over the choppy water and ever so often sprays of sea water hit us. Fr Anthony lends Kaelanne his raincoat.
We arrive in no time and walk from the pier to stairs and ascend a paved path leading to the chapel. There is another way of 47 steps but we avoid that.
The chapel is a simple wooden and concrete structure whose signage is made of boat chain links. There are no elaborate furnishings and the unassuming structure sits comfortably in the environment. There are two walls—where the crucifix is hung before the altar and the other bordering the little area which functions as sacristy and confessional. Breeze keeps the chapel cool as rays of sunlight cast their glow and birds around sing.
The congregation comprises persons staying on Gasparee and who come across from other islands for the Mass. More than 30 persons, adults and children are assembled when the liturgy commences. This Mass progresses like any other albeit shorter but nonetheless fulfilling the spiritual needs of the persons assembled who want to continue worship even if they are not in a parish setting. The lectors are residents or regular visitors.
In his homily, Fr Anthony said St Paul tells people to “live the good life” patterning after Jesus who went about doing good and St John’s reading states, “live by the truth”. He told the congregation, “One of the big truths is in helping your neighbour you help Christ. Let us take away the two phrases—live the good life and live by the truth so we give ourselves completely to the Lord with his help, and [we are] confident He is there.”
In an interview after Mass, Fr Anthony said, “Three of us started and for the past 20 years I suppose I am the only one doing it more or less every Saturday unless there are retreats; the priests who do the retreats do the Mass.” He said the congregation is larger at Easter, Christmas and during retreats.
He said of his years celebrating Masses at Gasparee, “It is rewarding. There is confession before Mass. We have the Mass and it gives the people the opportunity of coming to Church. We’ve had one or two baptisms.” He continued, “Praise God that I am keeping going and wish my good legs to keep going.”
His yeoman service is profoundly appreciated. Mark Chang said, “Thank God for Fr Anthony and the service he has been giving here”, and Anushka Mitchell, who resides on Gasparee said, “It’s nice we have a Mass on a Saturday evening…he still comes, he still does his best for someone his age. He still makes the effort every Saturday.”
We return to Chaguaramas with Rosa Mystica. It was an invigorating trip: attending Mass close to nature, taking in the clean air, the occasional splash of sea water. As the boat passes Little Gasparee, Fr Anthony calls attention to the mass of pelicans and corbeaux swirling overhead. He says on the island half the trees are home to pelicans and the other half corbeaux.
“They are enjoying the breeze, just sailing on the breeze. That’s happiness,” he says, a smile of contentment on his face.
You can click here to read Simone Delochan’s version of the trip.