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Catholic men’s ministry in T&T

Ralph Charles & Fr Dwight Merrick reflect on two decades of Catholic men’s ministry.

In 1999, Winston Garcia, Christo Gouveia, Paul Bousignac, Simon Rostant (both now deacons) and Fr Dwight Merrick saw the need to bring Catholic men together for a day of prayer and fellowship. This came off under the patronage of then Archbishop Anthony Pantin on August 2, 1999 at St Charles RC Church, Tunapuna.

The theme was Catholic Men at Risk and the event attracted some 370 men with just three weeks of preparation. On October 2, 1999, a second effort was again hosted at St Charles entitled ‘Catholic Men at Risk II’ and thus was established a new Ministry in our Church focusing on Catholic men.

From 2000–2003, our small coordinating team again hosted annual conferences at St Charles including presentations made from the book The Masculine Journey and the video series ‘Loving Relationships’ by Gary Smalley.

Msgr Allan Ventour, Fr Ian Taylor, Gouveia, Garcia, Lee Birmingham and Hess Alexander all played significant roles in those early days.

From 2004–2009, our annual conferences shifted venue to The UWI School of Continuing Studies except for most years. In an effort to be fairer to the brothers from deep south, our conferences from 2010–2016 adopted the Max Murphy parish hall in Chaguanas as home. Our 2017 conference was hosted jointly with the Missionaries of Divine Potter and was held at Green Meadows, Santa Cruz.

From as early as the 2003 conference, our efforts took on an international dimension as teams from Guyana in particular joined the twenty-plus group from T&T.

This international dimension also included presenters who shared about their own efforts at Catholic men’s ministry in their home territories. These included Alvin Isidore from St Lucia, Compton Young (since deceased) and Joel Freeman from Guyana, and Deacon Arnold from the US Virgin Islands.

We have had feature speakers from St Lucia in Isidore, from the USA in Dave Vanwinckle, and Ghana (here for the international Fraternity of Priests retreat) and finally Deacon Harold Burke in 2017.

Outreach to young males through sports

Activities beyond conferences kicked off in 2000 when Lionel Darceuil became involved and suggested an outreach to youth focused on sports. Thus began our one-day football competition at Fatima College Grounds on the Divali holiday and our windball cricket competition on the Spiritual Baptist holiday at Constantine Grounds, Tunapuna; the Paddock, Queen’s Park Savannah; Princess Royal Park, Arima; Presentation College Grounds, Chaguanas, and the Larry Gomes Stadium, Malabar, Arima on occasion.

At our 2006 football competition, participation had grown to 32 teams forcing a second venue from the following year and at times would include female teams as well.

While our football competition ran without break for some 13 years, the windball cricket though well organised and supported especially by men’s groups in the east, did not run as long.

Since about 2013, some of our leaders have also been involved in conducting the Life in the Spirit seminar for Confirmation classes at Morvant/Laventille, La Horquetta and Carenage as well as supporting the Youth 2000 and Youth Prayer Festival weekends.

Members of our Association also assisted Fr Merrick with many retreats and camps for his young people at venues like Cedros, Delaford, Scarborough, Toco, Cumaca village, Brasso Seco via Paria, Catholic Bible Institute in Caroni, Cumaca RC and St Catherine’s Estate, Valencia. Life in the Spirit seminars were conducted for the men at the parishes of Malabar, Arouca, San Juan, Couva, Mon Repos and Morvant.

In a society deficient in mature men mentoring youngsters and presenting positive male models to young people, several of our association members have, for over ten years, assisted Fr Merrick with these most important events with young people including travels to various rural villages throughout Trinidad and Tobago.

From the large groups camping at Delaford RC and Scarborough RC schools, to the aspirants to the Diocesan priesthood with us on our annual retreats held in Tobago, a core of our members have for the last 15 years engaged with both youth and parish ministries.

From 2003–2016, association members engaged a variety of ministries including preaching in the Morvant/Laventille pastoral area, Manzanilla and Mayaro parishes.

Lenten retreats at Trou Macaque, St Dominic’s Morvant, Success Village and Laventille Shrine were always much appreciated particularly when many were hesitant to visit the area due to crime. Laventille Devotions as well were blessed with the presence of several Catholic men’s groups and boys’ colleges when challenged to lead the devotions on occasions.

With a primary goal of providing ministry to Catholic men, almost from inception, our core of leaders has been engaged in supporting parishes locally with men’s retreats particularly during the Lenten season.

‘Men Who Could Cook’

Other communities served by our leader included: Rincon, Las Cuevas, La Fillette, Blanchisseuse, Morne La Croix, Brasso Seco/Paria, Arouca, Malabar, Guayaguayare, Mayaro, Ortoire, Fishing Pond, Biche, Mazanilla, Mon Repos, Couva, Los Bajos, Carapo, Cumuto, La Horquetta, Scarborough, Lower Cumuto Government, Upper Cumuto Government.

Our Association was also happy to partner with the Archdiocesan Family Life Commission in their first family day by relocating our ‘Men Who Could Cook’ event to their Chaguanas venue.

This was both a great challenge and a wonderful experience from the callaloo and chicken preparation the night before to the 5 a.m. departure from Arima to get pots on fire on time. The variety of meats and dishes on sale all made by the men was truly memorable for us and patrons as well.

It was shocking for us in 1999 to discover that many parishes already had functioning men’s groups predating our event. The 2003 conference listed participating groups from the following: CCR (Guyana), St Anne’s US Virgin Islands, Assumption parish, Barataria, Blanchisseuse, Chaguanas, Couva, Mayo, Santa Rosa, San Fernando, Diego Martin, Erin, St Augustine, Petit Valley, GANG, Malabar, Maracas Valley, Marian House, South Oropouche, People of Praise, Point Fortin, Precious Blood, Scarborough, Siparia, Sangre Grande, Santa Cruz, St Benedict’s College, Tunapuna, Penal, Word of Life Community, St Mary’s Mucurapo, Couples for Christ, Arouca.

Outside of Trinidad and almost from inception, mission teams assisted Fr Merrick on many of his retreats up the islands including: St Lucia, Grenada and Dominica.

Most of our mission trips however, visited Guyana both to serve the Catholic Charismatic Renewal and to help initiate the Guyana Catholic Men’s Movement some 11 years ago.

Significantly, leaders in Guyana just a few years ago extended themselves to help Catholic men in Suriname get their Catholic Men’s Movement up and running, both with an annual conference and with parish men’s groups.

As the Association of Catholic Men’s Groups makes way for the new move of God’s Spirit led by our Archbishop, the Executive and Fr Merrick would like to thank God and the numerous people around the Caribbean and especially in our Archdiocese for your support and encouragement over the last 20 years.

As we decrease, we look forward to serving in new and challenging ways through our new National Catholic Men’s Movement (NCMM). To God be the glory.

There will be a Mass and social to commemorate this landmark on Thursday, August 1 at 10 a.m. at the St John the Baptist RC Church, San Juan.