By Raymond Syms
The celebrant and homilist at Sunday’s annual feast day Mass of St Rose of Lima at the Santa Rosa RC has praised the contribution of the Santa Rosa First Peoples and apologised for the Church’s past sins against the Community.
Fr Steve Duncan, parish priest of the Santa Rosa/Malabar Cluster in Arima, said since coming to the parish three years ago, he looked forward to the annual reappearance of the red, white, yellow and pink flags, the colours of St Rose, the Peruvian saint, around the nearby Santa Rosa Park.
This, he continued, “has come to signify and celebrate something that is uniquely Arima, something that is uniquely First Peoples, and a powerful reminder to us all of the unique and tremendously significant contribution that the First Peoples community has made to Arima”.
He acknowledged though that the Church has been “complicit too in placing last those who were first, those who were here a long time before we came”.
“And so today I want to echo the words of Pope Francis as he spoke at the Second World Meeting of Popular meetings in Bolivia in 2015: ‘Many grave sins were committed against the native peoples of America in the name of God’. Like Saint John Paul II, I ask that the Church kneel before God and implore forgiveness for the past and present sins of her sons and daughters.
“I humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offenses of the Church herself, but for crimes committed against the native peoples during the so-called conquest of America. There was sin, a great deal of it, for which we did not ask pardon. So for this, we ask forgiveness, I ask forgiveness.”
The First Peoples were led by Chief Ricardo Bharath Hernandez and Carib Queen Nona Aquan, who last year succeeded Jennifer Cassar who died July 19, 2018.
Preaching on the Sunday’s Gospel (Lk 13:22–30), Fr Duncan said, “To enter through the narrow gate means to choose to love even when it is easier to hate; it means to choose to forgive when everyone else says hang them high; it means to be inclusive when others say to exclude, to open the eyes of our hearts that we may see the Christ in each other”.
He told the congregation that entering through the narrow gate meant “risking the ridicule of the crowd when we choose not to engage in bullying those who look, speak, and act differently from ourselves”.
Fr Duncan said entering through the narrow gate “symbolises the way Christians must live”, but it is a difficult path compared to the smooth and easy way of the world.
“Why should we choose to follow Jesus on the narrow road to Calvary where all that await is the humiliation of the cross, rather than the exciting road to Toco Loco where the sun goes low?” he asked rhetorically.
He added, “Why should we choose to enter the narrow gate of marital fidelity, when the wider road of choice and opportunity is so much more attractive? Why should we choose the path of abstinence when availability of contraceptive abortions removes from us the responsibility for our behaviours?”
Answering these questions, Fr Duncan said Christians should choose the narrow gate because doing this “brings rewards that those who remain on the smooth and easy way will never know”.
He said the Gospel presents an opportune moment to examine levels of commitment to the Christian journey. He asked, “Would ‘narrow is the gate’ describe the way we are choosing to live? Or, are we choosing the smooth path, the way that meets the least resistance?”
Fr Duncan began his homily welcoming faithful and invited guests to the Church of “those who consider themselves to be first” because of positions, titles, accomplishments, financial and educational status, where they lived and how often they attended Mass.
He said the Church was also for “those who consider themselves to be last”; because they have been looked down upon by others and labelled as different or deem themselves less than others because they do not have many possessions or belong to certain social circles.
Fr Duncan added, “… welcome to the Church of Jesus Christ, the God of the first and the last, the God of saint and sinner alike, who looks not on our sins but on our faith, who looks beyond our faults and sees our need; and welcomes us all, because we all share one common characteristic: we are His children, His sons and daughters and heirs to His Kingdom.”
Arima Member of Parliament Anthony Garcia, Mayor Lisa Morris-Julian, former Mayor Ghassan Youssef, former Port of Spain Mayor John Rahael and Peruvian Ambassador Luis Rodomiro Hernandez Ortiz were among those present. The Ambassador later presented Fr Duncan with an image of St Rose.
The church was decorated in red, yellow, white and pink flowers and ribbons, and other indigenous craft. In brilliant sunshine and under police escort, the procession took participants around the park through some of the borough’s main streets. Returning to the church, the celebration ended with Benediction.