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After COVID-19 delay, ‘Fr Gerard’ leaves for Italy

It has taken months because of the pandemic, but Fr Gerard Tang Choon O Carm has left Trinidad on his way to his new appointment in Sicily, Italy.

At the end of February, the then parish priest at Mary Immaculate Queen of the Universe (MIQU) RC Church, Parish of Bourg Mulatresse announced he had been reassigned to Licata, Sicily to work at the Carmelite Shrine of St Angelus. He was initially scheduled to depart April 12, Easter Sunday but T&T closed its borders in March to contain the spread of COVID-19.

In a brief video message from the MIQU’s Facebook page August 17, Fr Tang Choon explained that while most farewells to parish priests would include the traditional farewell Mass and sharing, this was not possible because of the COVID-19 restrictions.

Fr Tang Choon shared that with the borders closed, the only way to get permission to leave was to write to the Ministry of National Security.

“And then I got permission to leave once I provided flight information. At that point, no affordable flights were there out of the country. I had already been booked for several flights that had been cancelled so there was never ever any way of knowing ahead the time that I would be able to depart,” he explained.

He said he told some parishioners that the approval for travel and a confirmed flight date would be likely done in such a way there would be limited time to leave the country.

“So basically, there’s a saying ‘today for tomorrow’. So, this actually happened on Thursday 6 and Friday 7 August for a flight which had to leave early Saturday morning.”

He left August 8 and arrived safely in the United States, staying at St Jude’s RC Church, Boca Raton, Florida, until he receives his long-term stay visa from the Italian consulate.

Fr Tang Choon was only able to bid farewell to his immediate family: grandmother, parents, siblings, and their children as well as the Carmelites in the Archdiocese.

“I really want to take this opportunity to say goodbye to MIQU and to Trinidad and Tobago. Each parish that I’ve worked in has had a very positive effect on me,” he said.

He identified each parish where he worked, his first stint as deacon at Our Lady of Mt Carmel, Blanchisseuse where he saw the commitment of the people on the North Coast and their wonderful faith and fraternity.

He thanked the parishioners at his first parish, St John the Baptist, St Augustine, for their trust in him as “a young parish priest”. He commented that the reenactment of the Stations of the Cross which began at that parish was such a joy to be part of as he saw the effects it had upon the lives of those who gathered. “In many ways you have shaped the kind of parish priest that I have become,” he said.

Fr Gerard embraces a parishioner at the rededication of St Mary’s, Mucurapo last year

St Mary’s RC Church, Mucurapo was his “briefest” stint. It was however, one parish that parishioners “willingly” went along with many of his ideas such as the blessing of animals as well as ministering to the Mucurapo RC schools and working along with the Toute Bagai committee.

St Philip and St James, Chaguanas was “already a familiar place” as Fr Tang Choon revealed he would often “end up there” after swimming practice.

St Michael’s RC, Maracas was Fr Tang Choon’s residence “for a long time” when he served in Blanchisseuse as a deacon. It was here that he saw the blessings of the new church buildings: St Theresa’s, the expansion of St Cecelia’s both now having air-conditioning, as well as transitioning from worshipping in a hall to the restored St Michael’s.

It was here he continued with the reenactments, the harvests and other signature events. He fondly recalled the 5Ks especially the 150th anniversary where over 400 persons took part.

Fr Tang Choon described the last 27 months at MIQU as such “a rewarding experience” working with some amazing, “committed” Catholics. He enjoyed the energies that came from parishioners particularly around the liturgies, feast processions, reenactments, Christmas dinners, and personal celebrations such as First Communion, Baptism and Confirmation. He also mentioned being “blessed” for being a part of the church’s 60th anniversary celebrations.

In July, a steering committee was appointed to lead the parish and Suburban Vicar Fr Steve Ransome will work together with them until the appointment of a new parish priest, Fr Tang Choon said.

He ended assuring all his continued prayers. “My people of Trinidad and Tobago I don’t know if you know how blessed you are, your gifts and your talents, which you have received from Almighty God. I pray that you fully realise your potential and be the people and the country God is calling you to be. I thank all of you for being part of my life and my family, the Carmelites and all that played part of my journey. I pray that God will continue to bless you all.”