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Queen Cassar was a ‘different soil’

Chief Ricardo Bharath Hernandez (right) and other members of the Santa Rosa First Peoples community stand near the open coffin. Photos: Gerard-Paul Wanliss

The death of Carib Queen Jennifer Cassar of the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community on July 19 and the events of July 27, 1990 have provided an opportunity for reflection as they both highlight the issue of shepherding, leadership, discretion and service.

Fr Steve Duncan, parish priest of Santa Rosa RC, Arima shared this perspective as he delivered the homily at Cassar’s funeral on Friday, July 27. Cassar, 66, would have celebrated her birthday on August 4.

Fr Duncan commented that on that day [July 27] 28 years ago, the country was plunged into shock and a state of emergency as the shepherding authority of the state was “violated” and “assaulted”.

He observed while citizens have “soldiered on” for democracy, they still cannot forget the “unpleasant memory” that is etched in the national annals. Similarly, Cassar’s death should “touch” or “remind” all of the need to recognise and treat decisively with what is more indigenous and sacrosanct.

He asked those gathered to reflect on the knowledge and insights the Good Shepherd is passing on to them and what discretionary word God might be planting in the soil of  individual hearts and the national psyche.

Fr Duncan referenced the reminder given to the faithful in the gospel parable that everyone is different and that “marked” difference [in] soil does not absolve nor prevent anyone from contributing to the betterment or advancement of the Church’s “pomp and plan.”

He explained, “…when we listen to the tributes we get a sense that queen Cassar got that. She understood that she had a contribution to make towards the advancement of our people and so she came forward serving as chief secretary of the organisation and rising…”

Fr Duncan noted that many of Cassar’s contributions involved listening to a different kind of “rhythm” which says “You could have been placed here, you have been summoned by the Mighty God to prosper, to yield, to contribute”. He added, “And you do that to the best of your ability. [That’s] service to humanity”.

Fr Duncan emphasised Cassar was a different soil; one which received the Word of God and produced fruit. “Just as every soil is different, the way we receive the life-giving Word of God is different and that difference has to do with the receptivity and capacity for accommodating the Word.”

He said Cassar’s death sent “shockwaves” through the Borough of Arima.  Cassar not only distinguished herself by raising the profile of the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community but also had an effect on the national community.

He said, “This soil has called back home his daughter Jennifer to a place where joy shall never end…. Her leaving the pasture life of the clan of indigenous peoples has created what I want to call a state of emergency as the question arises ‘Who will be the new queen?’”

In his tribute, Ricardo Bharath Hernandez, chief, Santa Rosa First Peoples Community said Cassar not only brought  the fulfillment of the rights of indigenous peoples but she was a messenger of hope and an answer to prayer.

She “emerged” without a dissenting voice as queen and was inaugurated August 6, 2011.

“As I reflect on her life and the pillar she remains in our community, I understand the urgency and tact in which she dispatched issues and activities. There was no time to linger. Her term in office was short measured in years but her quality and quantity is 70 times 7. She indeed gave.”

Bharath Hernandez assured the stability of the community, its festivals and activities will not be shattered or diminished. “We have no sorrow but our joy rises because so much was practiced and learned and now we must do our part and follow the blueprint,” he said.

The outpouring of tributes, he observed, indicated that Queen Cassar was much loved not only by the community in T&T but by many important cultural sectors and wider population.  He then proposed that part of the First Peoples Heritage Site be named in honour of their sixth queen, Jennifer Cassar for, in indigenous traditions erections are significant.

He explained, “The east is seen as the beginning or top of the earth for it is where the sun rises and the west is the end because it is where the sun sets. In sorrow we accept she has returned in a westerly direction. In joy we know she has entered a world of spirits…”

Bharath Hernandez expressed thanks to all gathered with particular mention to Msgr Christian Pereira and Bishop Emeritus Malcolm Galt who were unable to attend.

Attending dignitaries included Prime Minister Keith Rowley, government ministers, Arima mayor Lisa Morris- Julian, members of the Arima Borough Corporation, representatives of delegations from indigenous communities in Belize, Guyana, Suriname and US, members of the diplomatic corps and First Peoples community.

The eulogy was offered by her son John Cassar, the first reading by granddaughter Shernice Cassar and gospel reading proclaimed by Deacon Lennox Toussaint.

Queen Jennifer Cassar was laid to rest at Santa Rosa cemetery. – KJ