By Lara Pickford-Gordon
In the Ask the Archbishop live chat on Facebook, November 20, Archbishop Jason Gordon commented on the two recent deaths of leaders: Satnarine Maharaj and Dr Sr Phyliss Wharfe SJC.
Of Sr Phyllis His Grace said, as principal of SJC San Fernando, her focus was “giving an education not a certification” and she “raised a generation of young women to think” over the course of her years as educator.
Wharfe, 74 years died last Monday at the Scarborough General Hospital, Tobago. She received the Public Service Medal of Merit for outstanding and meritorious service to T&T in the sphere of education and the empowerment of young women September 27 while warded. In 2003, she was inducted into the St Joseph’s Convent (SJC) Port of Spain Hall of Excellence. Sr Phyllis taught at St Joseph’s Convent—both in Port of Spain and St Joseph—and was principal of SJC San Fernando.
She wanted the students attending the SJC “to come out educated women”, with a vision, and a depth of life and Catholicity, “not only about rote learning of faith”. It was a Catholicity in which connection with people, social justice and way of seeing the world are integral. He added, “Where every person can grow and develop and these are the things that Sr Phyllis held so sacred and so important.”
As a director of the Caribbean Religious Education Development Institute (CREDI), Sr Phyllis’ contribution was “stellar”. Archbishop Gordon mentioned a research paper on Catholic Education which she prepared and set a “benchmark” for others researching the subject.
There were many women Sr Phyllis influenced and mentored. “Her contribution was just amazing” the Archbishop said, calling her “a Catholic icon”.
Archbishop Gordon attended last Tuesday’s funeral for Satnarayan Maharaj, the former secretary general of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha at Lakshmi Girls’ Hindu College St Augustine. Archbishop Gordon said it was important for him to be present “to acknowledge the contribution he made”. Maharaj worked to make Hinduism mainstream. The Black Power movement 1968–70 brought the African community mainstream in the 1970s however, the East Indian was still treated with contempt for a number of reasons, Archbishop Gordon said. “Like him or don’t like him, he did this thing which was important if we are to have a mature society moving forward,” he commented.
Maharaj’s contribution to education was important and deserved acknowledgement. Archbishop Gordon said there were two different sides to Maharaj, the public and private. The Sat of public life was a “warrior, and he had to be a warrior for what was his role for his community”, while the private Sat was very congenial.
Archbishop Gordon said Maharaj could be bombastic and hold positions he could never support or understand. “I could say all of that…but at the end of the day what is his contribution? If you had to be the person struggling for your community to be recognised you would do some of the things he did too.”
The Archbishop was asked about Catholics attending Mass dressed in East Indian wear and participating in Divali activities such as lighting deyas which some viewed as worshipping two gods. He said, “the Indian wear is not Indian liturgical wear…it’s style; it’s clothes; it’s culture. We in Trinidad have come accustomed to think of European wear as the default way to dress. It is one of international ways to dress and does not make it superior.” On Emancipation Day people wore traditional African wear but this did not mean the value system changed. He said T&T is a great hybrid where people can “mix and match” their clothes.
Divali is a Hindu festival of lights. Archbishop Gordon asked, “How can light be symbol of darkness, the true light came into the world, and the true light is Jesus Christ; if there is a festival of lights how can that be a symbol of darkness?” He clarified that saying prayers to Hindu gods or doing a puja, a prayer ritual performed by Hindus to one or more deities, was crossing from culture to religion.
“The crossing across is not in the external wear but in the internal disposition or internal reverence or worship you give and if it is to a God outside the God of Jesus Christ then you have crossed and it is idolatry,” he explained.
Archbishop Gordon said the early Church debated whether the Greeks should be forced to change their clothes, customs and laws after converting to Christianity. The answer was “no”.
“The same way they did not have to become culturally Jewish, same way the East Indians do not have to leave the cultural elements of their culture to become Christian but they had to leave the religious elements of their ancestors,” Archbishop Gordon said.