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MOP establishing roots in T&T

By Kaelanne Jordan,

A new mission of the Missionaries of the Poor (MOP) is currently being initiated in Trinidad.

The Missionaries of the Poor, a Jamaica-based religious institute was founded by Fr Richard Ho Lung, a former Jesuit priest and university professor in the slums of Kingston, Jamaica, in 1981. It is a religious community of priests, brothers and sisters who dedicate their lives to the service of the rejected and destitute.

In just 37 years, the MOP has established themselves in ten countries, covering over 12 archdioceses and dioceses; they have ministries in India, The Philippines, Haiti, Kenya, Uganda, Indonesia, US and East Timor.

Last November, Fr Vicente Salam (Belize) and Brs Francis Tirkey (India) and Sonny Borras (The Philippines) from the Jamaica mission arrived in Trinidad and Tobago eager to replicate the institute’s mission of bringing the love of Christ to the dispossessed, the most rejected and the most marginalised in society. In fidelity to their missionary character, the Brothers take care of over 30,000 people under a vow of free service, irrespective of creed, caste, race, nationality and culture.

Catholic News spoke with Fr Vicente recently at the Centre for Peace, Woodbrook on their experience thus far and why Trinidad was chosen as their third Caribbean mission.

The Belizean priest acknowledged that as a missionary, he did not experience any culture shock being here, as he was able to “fit in”. He also observed the local’s faith is “far different” from Jamaicans. “Wherever you go you find there is Mass there: adoration going on, Divine Mercy going on…Prayer is very strong [here] and that’s what I find very interesting,” he said.

Fr Vicente clarified whenever the MOP visits any country it is on the invitation of the Church. Their presence here, he confirmed, was prompted by then Archbishop Joseph Harris, five years ago. He said the group has since met with Archbishop Jason Gordon who was “gracious” in receiving them in the archdiocese. “And we are working very closely with him at the moment,” he commented.

He said since their arrival, they have met many people who have since offered to help and be a part of their mission. “…But at the same time, we know we can’t do it ourselves. The need will always be immense. We want them to know as well we need them to make this mission happen in this country…. Wherever we are, whichever country we are, men are always attracted to our way of life. And that’s something. I don’t know how that happens but I think it’s the workings of the Lord.”

The Brothers have observed a lot of homelessness and areas for outreach ministry specifically in the Sea Lots, Beetham and Gonzales communities. He mentioned the MOP has a few committed Trinidadian members, notably Fr Hayden Augustine MOP, brother to Fr Gregory Augustine, Provincial Superior of the Holy Ghost Fathers, and Principal at Fatima College.

Another aspect of their mission is to secure a residence in Gonzales and build a homeless shelter on Duncan Street, Port of Spain. This property was offered by the Society of St Vincent de Paul.

Meanwhile, the Brothers have been unable to acquire permanent accommodation. They first stayed at Mt St Benedict for three months, and their current accommodation at the centre is also temporary.

Fr Vicente said the Brothers are cognisant of the high crime levels in the country.

He however believed that their presence will resonate as messengers of hope for everyone regardless of their situation. Fr Vicente said in keeping with their mandate of working among the poorest of the poor, it was a bit “hard” to identify these areas in comparison to mission in Jamaica. He commented though, that there were some similarities.

“Jamaica being very, very poor, living in the heart of the ghetto in Kingston where we see literally people who are thrown away by their own families, left by our gate. We might not see that here and [the] reason being is that Trinidad is a Catholic country and the family life is strong and so that would be a bit different but yet at the same time we see there is a need for our mission and to carry out our works.”

Fr Vicente revealed the response from Gonzales residents, since their meet and greet in April was very receptive. “I have a feeling that people will receive us but at the same time we live in troubled times but that is expected. When we are known people will want to…I believe it will happen,” he said.

For now, the Brothers remain mum on how long they plan on staying here. “We don’t have a time frame to go back. We are establishing the foundation of the mission in Trinidad. It’s an ongoing mission,” he said.