The Catholic Church in Trinidad and Tobago officially launched the diocesan phase of the Synod November 27 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
Archbishop Jason Gordon, the main celebrant said the synodal experience was not the time to “shrink back and let fear dominate”. Due to the current Covid-19 health regulations, in-person attendance was by invite only
The Synod consultations were to get underway in December. Members of the Synod team are: Dr Ruby Alleyne (Co-Chair); Gregory McGuire (Co-Chair); Fr Urban Hudlin OP; Renee Smith; Margaret Richardson; Hanif Benjamin; Ronald Tagallie and Dennis Hamid.
On October 10, 2021, Pope Francis formally opened a two-year process for the Catholic Church all around the globe, called “a synod on synodality”, under the theme For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission
Responding to food insecurity
Food insecurity became a major issue during the pandemic. In an interview June 20, Fr Derek Anton, the Moderator for Couva/Chaguanas/Carapichaima, Episcopal Vicar for the Central Vicariate, and the Archdiocese hotline team lead said: “In the last quarter of last year, first four months of this year, very few calls. April  was maybe under 100 but when we went back into lockdown and State of Emergency…May jumped up to 1,100.”
Funding from the State helped the Church to provide further assistance with hampers of food
Ecclesial communities continued their work despite the challenges. Among them, the Living Water Community began using a digital platform January 2021 for its Food Bank to render help while adhering to the regulations in May which restricted public gatherings—with a few exceptions e.g., banks, groceries— to five persons.
The Society of St Vincent de Paul continued with “limited resources”. In addition to the regular families assisted, new cases were emerging which Conferences tried to assist. The closure of places of worship during the lockdown halted the monthly second collection at Masses for the SVP; fundraising, too, has been impacted by Covid-19 restrictions . The SVP launched the National President’s Youth Food Basket 2021. The project has two objectives: to engage youths directly in agricultural production and enable to have a stake in Food Security, while contributing to charitable needs within various communities throughout Trinidad and Tobago.
Several events were held in the Archdiocese to address the psychosocial needs. Among them: ‘Church in Action—Sharing Hope and Healing in Covid Times’ July 12–18 live on Trinity TV and Facebook.
The mental health outreach programme shared hope, healing, and practical ways to navigate the difficulties of the Covid-19 pandemic. It was a collaboration of ecclesial communities and archdiocesan commissions to respond to the needs which have come to the fore (3, CN, July 18).
Archbishop Jason Gordon got the Covid-19 vaccine at the Diego Martin Health Centre. He urged the public to be careful and “dial down on social contacts”, wear masks at all times, and wash their hands
Several fora were held in the Archdiocese to disseminate information on Covid vaccines. The Catholic Commission for Social Justice featured immunologist, researcher Dr Michele Monteil May 26 at ‘COVID-19 Conversation’ live forum on its Facebook page.
She said children were “dying a different kind of death” not being able to grow up normally during the pandemic.
Archbishop appeals for discipline
Archbishop Jason Gordon urged the public to exercise discipline by adhering to the Covid-19 protocols and to “pull back, become our brother’s and sister’s keeper”. On April 29, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley announced the closure of places of worship, malls, gyms, spas etc., in response to a rise in Covid-19 infections. Funerals and weddings could take place during restriction and livestreamed religious services only (3, CN, May 9).
As Covid-19 cases increased in December, the Archbishop chastised the irresponsible behaviour contributing to the increase and deaths. “Children that have been well-disciplined by their parents understand if you do what is wrong, there are consequences for your actions. We are like a nation of spoilt children….”, he said December 5 during Mass at Living Water Community Chapel, Port of Spain (3, CN, December 12).
Virtual classes and phased reopening
In 2021, students returned to schools for in-person classes. Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly held a meeting with education stakeholders February 23 to get feedback on the return of the Forms Four, Five and Six students preparing for examinations. Limited face to face tuition resumed at secondary schools across the country February 8.
The Catholic Education Board of Management (CEBM) presented a report on the schools under its purview. To observe physical distancing protocols, groups of students were rotated in some schools (3, CN, March 7).
Ongoing monitoring of students is one of the challenges as education continues in Term III using a “hybrid format”. As community spread continued, the Education Ministry announced on April 6 that schools will continue using “the hybrid format” used in Term II of Academic Year 2020/2021.
Term III began April 12. Students of Forms 4–6 accessed physical classes only for practical subject components, all other Secondary, Primary and Early Childhood Care and Education students continued using online or printed material.
Educational material was supplemented by the Ministry via television, radio, print media and online.
For the start of the new academic year in September, the CEBM recommended rapid Covid-19 testing be available to schools so “more cases will be detected, breaking chains of transmission and saving lives, and keeping our schools functioning”.
The CEBM stated the Ministry of Education’s revised guidelines for the reopening of schools can be “an effective framework for the reopening schools in the September term on the condition that the required resources are provided in a timely manner” (3, CN, September 19).
Fully vaccinated Forms Four to Six and equivalent grades returned to school. The Education Ministry subsequently amended its policy allowing unvaccinated students to return. The CEBM urged heightened vigilance.
Ministry officials held a series of meetings with representatives of school boards and others to discuss the operations of schools for Term I 2021/2022, and recommendations for the operations of schools for Term II 2022.
One of the points highlighted by the Chief Executive Officer of the CEBM was teachers having to constantly supervise children in addition to their normal duties, this was leading to some “teacher burnout”
Schools get ICT support
Assistance came from the State, private citizens, the corporate sector, and non-governmental organisations.
More than 1,000 students in Catholic schools without internet access are getting assistance through a collaboration between the Archdiocese through the CEBM and the Telecommunications Services of Trinidad and Tobago (TSTT) and other providers of Information and Communication Technology (ICT).
A total of 54 tablets were distributed to the Nelson St Girls’ RC, Nelson St Boys’ RC, Bethlehem Girls’ RC, and Bethlehem Boys’ RC in a handing over ceremony held at the Nelson Street Girls’ on Friday, March 12. The devices were sponsored by a Trinidadian living in Canada. Facilitating the handing over was former general manager, Catholic Media Services Ltd, Lucille Nathu.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM), the United Nations migration agency presented the Catholic Commission for Social Justice /Archdiocesan Ministry for Migrants and Refugees with 20 tablets February 10 to support their online sessions with Venezuelan migrant children (3, CN, February 28).
Archdiocese protocols for Mass and other observances
The Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) Team of the Archdiocese issued bulletins during the year to guide the faithful in religious observances and as national Covid-19 protocols were amended and a state of emergency was in effect May 15 – November 17.
Police Commissioner Gary Griffith on March 25 advised both the Christian and the Shouter Baptist communities to ensure they adhere to the Public Health Ordinance Regulations with their upcoming events.
The HSE sent out Bulletin #12, ‘Guidelines for the Season of Lent and Holy Week’ which dealt with the distribution of and sanitising of palms.
As Covid cases rose during the month of March, an 87 per cent increase, Archbishop Jason Gordon wrote to clergy March 24, appealing they do all “to do their part to ensure that the faithful, and they themselves, strictly” adhere to the Covid-19 protocols issued by the Health Ministry and HSE.
The HSE issued guidelines COVID-19 Action to be taken in respect of positive cases among persons who were at our Churches. This was in response to reports of churches having to be closed because members of the congregation tested positive for Covid.
Churches were closed April 29 and the faithful tuned into Trinity TV and online for Masses. In-person Masses resumed September 6 with worship restricted to one hour and attendance reduced from 50 to 25 per cent of maximum capacity. Archbishop Jason Gordon asked Catholics to be “neighbourly, consider each other” when returning to Masses. He dispelled a rumour that only vaccinated persons would be allowed to attend Mass.
Ministers of the Eucharist, however, had to be vaccinated “because they are a point of contact with far too many people”. He announced a new web portal for Mass registration on www.catholictt.org. The HSE issued a proposal for the reopening of churches on September 5 for the week beginning September 6.
The National Catholic Men’s Ministry (NCMM) hosted a 33-day Consecration to St Joseph challenge from February 15 to the Solemnity of St Joseph, March 19, ending with Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
The 33-day challenge was part of activities locally for the special ‘Year of St Joseph’ December 8, 2020 —2021 which was proclaimed by Pope Francis in celebration of the 150th anniversary of Pope Pius IX’s declaration of St Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church (3, CN March 28).
Restoration started on St Joseph RC Church, the oldest Catholic church in Trinidad & Tobago. It was closed since December 2020 and weekend Masses celebrated at the Chapel of Mercy next to the church. While there was no procession with the statue of St Joseph on the Solemnity of St Joseph, March 19 because of Covid protocols, the chapel was open for adoration (3, CN, March 7).
Numerous events were held online including:
2. Archdiocesan Catechetical Office hosted a virtual conference Celebrating the Eucharist. More than 400 participants from the Caribbean, England, Canada, and the United States attended (12, CN, September 19);
3. Marriage and Family Week hosted by the Archdiocesan Family Life Commission.
Laudato Si’ Movement TT launched
A local chapter of the Global Catholic Climate Movement (GCCM) was launched online in Trinidad on May 21, the first in the English-speaking Caribbean. Sr Julie Marie Peters SSM is its first President. She said, “This Chapter is being born at the closing of the Laudato Si’ special anniversary year and the beginning of what has been declared by Pope Francis as the decade of Laudato Si’ action” (3, CN, May 30).
The GCCM changed its name July 29 and the local chapter followed with a name change to Laudato Si’ Movement Trinidad and Tobago Chapter.
Catholic News launches new masthead
The new look masthead was revealed August 29, along with a revamped format of content in the Independence special issue. The masthead colour was changed to blue, the colour associated with Mary, and “News” is in red reflects the paper “proudly T&T” General Manger Kathryn Tardieu explained (3, CN, September 5).