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Colourful mural enhances ‘beautiful Belmont’

The image of Archangel Michael standing guard at the entrance to the church yard. Archangel Raphael is on the opposite pillar. Photos: Raymond Syms

A lot of time, talent and effort went into the making of the mural outside St Francis RC Church, Belmont. Senior writer Lara Pickford-Gordon paid it a visit.

In the midst of the daily bustle of modern living the ‘St Francis’ Garden’ prompts passersby to pause and take in nature’s colour and vibrancy on the 160 ft perimeter wall of the St Francis of Assisi RC Church, Belmont Circular Road.

An image capturing the popular saint, and patron of the church, in this unspoiled natural environment reminds viewers of the need to preserve God’s creation. The message however, is more than this.

The mural, in honour of St Francis, patron saint of ecology was spearheaded by Belmont residents Dennis McComie, producer/director/broadcaster/writer; Linda Mentor, chair of the events and marketing committee of the St Francis parish; and Mickal Pierre, parish communications officer.

The idea was envisaged by McComie who approached Fr Thomas Lawson OP, cluster moderator of St Ann’s, St Martin de Porres/Holy Rosary/St Francis, with an idea to have young people involved in something which would add some “visual inspiration” to the grey perimeter wall of St Francis RC and raise an appreciation of the built heritage in their midst—the church.

The 116-year-old heritage site closed in 2010 after structural deterioration made it unsafe for use. Fundraising has been ongoing for restoration of the landmark.

McComie suggested art students from schools in the vicinity could come together to create their impression of what a garden of St Francis would look like. The parish sent out letters inviting schools.

In an interview Pierre said the response was good, a total of 36 students from Bishop Anstey High School, St Francois Girls’, Fatima College, Holy Name Convent, and St Francis Boys’ College participated. Also contributing were residents of the St Dominic’s Children Home, members of the St Francis Church Youth Group, and the Belmont community.

The Forms Four to Six students were divided into teams under the guidance of Leona Fabien and Lisa Hutchison, art teachers of Bishop’s Anstey, and Darrell Seignoret, Fatima College. Fabien said McComie shared his vision for the mural and Sr Catherine Thérése McComie OP provided ideas and suggestions from photos. Their nephew Anthony was also involved.

Fabien said images were sourced from the internet of local birds and trees; and Fr Lawson urged them not to forget St Dominic. With all of the ideas coming together Fabien said the art teachers stood on the pavement opposite the bare wall deciding where the details should be placed.

Tasks were assigned according to the artistic skills and strengths of the students. “Some students are good at landscapes, some were good at small things like flowers…some are excellent at the human figure.”

The project was initially to be executed on two Saturdays but took longer with the Caribbean Advance Proficiency Exam and Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate exams taking place.

‘The hope in heritage’ project officially began June 2. Artists and volunteers were presented with certificates of participation in an informal ceremony on Saturday, June 16 but young artists continued touching up and improving the mural up to June 29.

There are still a few final touches to be done and finally a protective sealant for the surface. Through the process of creating, taxi drivers, Belmont residents, showed their approval with comments, “looking good”; “keep it up!”. Support also came in the form of snacks and bottled water.  “It was hard work, an incredible experience. It was worth it,” Fabien said.

A release about the mural stated [it] “highlights the need for co-operation, collaboration and consensus among citizens and is geared to sensitising community and the nation, on a whole, to the critical need to address the protection and conservation of our natural and built heritage…. It is hoped that this tremendous gift of themselves and their creativity to the Belmont community efforts to restore the 116-year-old National Heritage Trust site, will gain support and real attention from the private and public sector.”

A video of the mural on the parish’s Facebook page generated many positive comments with “beautiful” the most used adjective and many commendations of the young people. Paula Camejo Jagbir, stated, “Beautiful Belmont! They have done so much by enriching this environment with this God given talent! A masterpiece! Belmont’s got talent!” James Brian, “I find it’s beautiful!!!! I saw wen dey were doin it.. but d finished job is amazing…”

For McComie, co-ordinator of the Hope in Heritage Project, restoration of St Francis RC is “dear” to his heart. He said the church has been the site of his baptism, the funerals of his parents, siblings, and he served as an acolyte. He sees the closure of the church as impacting on the community and hopes the mural raised awareness. McComie said restoration requires collaboration between the archdiocese and government.