Sitting down to lunch with Archbishop Jason Gordon is not a normal occurrence for most people. However, this is exactly what nine students from Duquesne University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States had the chance to do.
The students are in Trinidad for a month studying social justice, global issues and African music. They were accompanied by Dr Patricia A Sheahan, and other chaperones.
Student Sean Cahir remarked, “I looked forward to meeting the archbishop because I knew he would provide great insight on the issues facing the country of Trinidad and Tobago, and how to address them.” Students were eager to ask questions and connect the conversation back to the focus of their studies.
One major topic covered was social justice issues regarding education for Trinidadian students moving from primary to secondary schools, and how the archbishop wishes to address the situation of teaching 21st century students.
Archbishop Gordon described the difficulties getting into schools of choice and shared a personal testimony which revealed why he has such a passion to adjust the system to benefit everyone and not just select students. A percentage of students attend schools where there is a shortage of resources while others enjoy updated materials and technology. This interested student Emma Nicolazzo as she remembered from her Ethics course a movie titled, Waiting for Superman, that followed the education system in America.
Another topic of interest was the concept of colonialism. The archbishop explained how Trinidad’s entire history involved European influence in some way. The university students learned that before the Spanish and French came to the country, the Amerindians were the only inhabitants, and their roots have not endured far into today’s society.
Additionally, local Christians have been exposed to a white Jesus and other biblical characters based on European imagery. Student Sarah Gethers asked the archbishop why all the paintings and statues one sees on the island, representing both men and women in the Bible, were still depicted as white. Sarah expected these works of art to be more representative of the island’s inhabitants.
This is where the archbishop explained colonialism and why he believes it is still affecting the country years after its independence.
Archbishop Gordon spoke of a local artist, Jackie Hinkson, who created a series of 14 paintings titled, Christ in Trinidad. Hinkson’s paintings depict the story of Jesus through large, oil murals that show what life in Trinidad may have been like if Jesus lived on the island. The artwork features scenes such as the Last Supper taking place in a rum shop and the calming of the storm showing the use of traditional Trinidadian fishing boats.
After projecting photographs of a few of the murals from his iPad, Archbishop Gordon discussed the fact that the local Catholic Church had decided not to endorse the works, even though they are the first real representation of the Catholic faith in relation to Trinidadian culture, due to people still being stuck in the mindset of colonialism.
After sharing this information, the archbishop directed students to the Scott Street, Port of Spain house and art gallery of Michele Jodhan, founder of the Tallman Foundation, who works with local youth to help them embrace their interest in the arts and further their education.
Archbishop Gordon informed the students of life in the twin-island republic and discussed some of the issues that the country is facing today. Student Max Wunderlin asked about the people of T&T’s steadfast Catholic faith despite it not being a religion native to the island. The archbishop agreed that even though it is not, that the people here are very devout to their faith, and he attributes this mostly to the merciful nature of Catholicism and Christ’s teaching of unconditional love.
The archbishop also took away some new insights regarding America and some of the social issues that country faces, and how similar the issues are in both countries.
The experience was enriching in many ways for the students. Student Jordan Cuarvina agreed that, “Even though I was nervous to meet His Grace beforehand, I felt pleasantly surprised and comfortable talking to him.”
The students lunched with the archbishop; the menu was fish and rice, followed by rum cake with coconut ice cream for dessert. – Edited version of a report done by Adam Hines, student