Leela Ramdeen is the first in our Catholic Icons web series. Parts one and two appeared in the July 3 and 17 issues respectively. This is the conclusion.
On August 25, 1995, my mother died in London at the age of 66 years. We were devastated as her death was unexpected.
After my marriage failed, I decided to change career, return to T&T, and open a retreat centre. I passed my Solicitors’ Exams in London – the Common Professional Examination (CPE) and the Legal Practice Course (LPC).
On my return to T&T, I embarked on a full-time, two-year programme at Hugh Wooding Law School and was called to the T&T Bar after successfully completing the Legal Education Certificate (LEC) Programme.
During my studies, I had purchased a large house to establish the retreat centre. However, as Proverbs 16:9 reminds us, in our hearts we plan our course, but the Lord determines our steps.
I had known then Fr Jason Gordon since I was in London. In the early 2000s he invited the late Clive Belgrave, Sr Juliet Rajah CHF, Sr Roberta O’Flaherty CHF, and me to meet with him at Living Water Community (LWC) to plan and implement a monthly television programme entitled: Ask Why, to be aired on Trinity Communications Network. The aim was to highlight social ills within the context of the Church’s social doctrine and to make recommendations/suggest solutions.
Those who attended the 2003 sitting of Synod, under the leadership of then Archbishop Edward Gilbert CSsR, stated that they wanted him to be the “clarion voice for social justice” in the Archdiocese. He responded by stating that he would establish a social justice commission as a department in the Archdiocese.
Fr Jason informed him that he had known me from my work with the late Cardinal Basil Hume in London and suggested that I would be a good person to be considered as Chair.
Srs Juliet and Roberta accompanied me to a meeting with Archbishop Gilbert, and I left the meeting puzzled. Why did I accept the offer to Chair the new Commission when I had other plans? And the rest, as the saying goes, is history. In March 2003, Archbishop Gilbert established the Catholic Commission for Social Justice (CCSJ) with an office at Archbishop’s House.
My father and eldest sister, Kamala, were Barristers-at-Law (Lincoln’s Inn). They also decided to return to T&T. They had been called to the Bar long before me.
‘Pa’ had hoped that I would work with them as an attorney-at-law. However, from the outset, the work of the Commission was demanding. Not only did I have to update myself on the latest encyclicals etc., but I had to develop my knowledge of the nature and extent of social justice issues in T&T and in the region.
As the work began, the Lord sent some talented Catholics to work with me on CCSJ’s Management Committee. Together with Fr Jason, we carefully crafted our Aims, Objectives, and Core Values.
Pope Francis reminds us that the Church does not need cold or lukewarm Christians, but Christians who are “on fire with the Holy Spirit and committed to proclaiming the Gospel even at the cost of their lives. We have to be able to have the courage to speak out.”
I thank God that He has given me the courage to speak out, when necessary, even though, at times, I have paid a heavy price for doing so.
I left CCSJ at the end of my three-year term in 2006. Fr Michael Moses was appointed as my successor. He did much to highlight the dangers/cost to the environment/society of introducing a smelter plant in T&T.
Sadly, after just over a year in office, Fr Moses resigned due to ill health. He died in 2008. I accepted Archbishop Gilbert’s invitation to assume the position of CCSJ Chair once again.
In 2014, the then Archbishop Joseph Harris CSSp, together with founding members from a number of T&T organisations, drew up a Code of Ethical Political Conduct and established the Council for Responsible Political Behaviour to monitor the implementation of the Code.
Dr Bishnu Ragoonath was appointed Chair of the Council. I was appointed as a Member and Secretary. CCSJ is the Secretariat. A number of political parties have signed on to the Code.
For a few years, four Parish Link coordinators were appointed to CCSJ to educate the faithful about the Church’s Social Doctrine. However, these posts were deleted as part of a reorganisation process.
In 2018, Pope Francis mandated that each diocese should welcome, protect, promote, and integrate migrants and refugees. Archbishop Jason established the Archdiocese’s Ministry for Migrants and Refugees (AMMR) and located it within CCSJ.
Since LWC had been working with migrants and refugees for more than 30 years, Rhonda Maingot and Rochelle Nakhid joined Fr Simon Peter Ango and me to form a management committee for AMMR. Simone Francois Whittier, Attorney-at-Law, was appointed Programme Coordinator.
We established a number of Parish Ministries for Migrants and Refugees (PMMRs), and secured funding to support AMMR’s work via a one-year contract with UNICEF.
On Simone’s departure, Darrion Narine was appointed Programme Manager and we entered into a three-year contract with UNICEF. By God’s grace, we have managed to secure funds from a number of funding bodies.
I have bloomed wherever the Holy Spirit has blown me. However, after my ischemic stroke and two episodes of lacunar infarcts (not enough oxygen getting to my brain), I decided to retire just after my 72nd birthday.
Change is never easy. I truly miss the CCSJ team, my amazing colleagues at the Chancery, Commissions etc. I thank Archbishop Jason for his ongoing support. I am satisfied that I have left a competent team – Darrion, Matthew Pierre, Zahirah Mohammed, Shelly-Ann Simon, Kezia Guy, Shannon Young, and Marcia Faustin-Walker, whose knowledge, skills, and ability will ensure that CCSJ’s/AMMRs work will grow and bear much fruit. Darrion is Acting Chair. Fr Curtis Poyer, a T&T priest working in Mexico, will assume the Chair at some time in the future. His weekly formation sessions with us have been inspirational.
During my term as Chair, I had the opportunity to represent the Holy See at a UN HIV/AIDS Conference in Jamaica, for which I was awarded a Silver Medal by Pope John Paul II.
I also attended/participated in a number of conferences at the Vatican, organised by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, led by the late Cardinal Renato Martino, and his successor Cardinal Peter Turkson who, until recently, was the Prefect of the Dicastery of Integral Human Development. He has been succeeded by Cardinal Michael Czerny.
I have been blessed to have met three popes after some of these conferences – Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis.
I work in the Lord’s vineyard with no expectation of accolades, but have been blessed to have received a few, including the Anthony Pantin Award – along with a number of other Catholics, for my work with the community.
In 2021, along with Rhonda Maingot, Sr Ruth Montrichard SJC, and Deborah de Rosia, I was honoured to receive the Benemerenti Gold Medal from Pope Francis for service to the Universal Church and to society.
My journey continues, as I remain a Consultant to CCSJ/AMMR, Secretary to the Council for Responsible Political Behaviour, Director of the Catholic Religious Education Development Institute (CREDI), and Consultor to the Antilles Episcopal Conference’s Commission on Integral Human Development.
I have also been blessed to serve as a member of the Police Service Commission, a Cabinet-appointed Parole Introduction Committee, a Lay Assessor on the Equal Opportunity Tribunal, to name a few.
We were created by Love to love. We can only do so if we open our hearts to the Holy Spirit and allow Him to work in and through us. The challenge is to discern how we are to use our God-given talents to serve.
Faith and good works are inextricably linked. A life of prayer is essential if we are to live the Gospel as faithful disciples of Christ.
May the Lord continue to guide my path as I journey on and bless the work in which Archbishop Jason and the faithful are engaged in building the Civilisation of Love.