Moderator of the Santa Rosa/Malabar Cluster, Fr Steve Duncan was the main celebrant and homilist at Holy Mass to celebrate the Santa Rosa Parish’s patronal feast day on August 28. Following is his homily which has been edited for length.
I am heartened that so many of you have accepted the invitation to participate in our patronal Feast Day of Santa Rosa, our Patroness.
When I say, “our patronal Feast Day” and “our Patroness”, I include the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community (SRFPC). In the Roman Catholic tradition, a patron saint is chosen based on some real or presumed relationship with the persons or places involved. Our traditions and customs may differ but because of the witness of her life, Santa Rosa remains the point of unity between us. We both revere, love and honour Saint Rose of Lima or Santa Rosa de Lima or Santa Rosa as our patron saint.
August 2017 was my first experience of the Santa Rosa patronal Feast. I was new to the parish, and I remembered having several meetings with Chief Ricardo Bharath Hernandez, to understand the relationship between the SRFPC and the Roman Catholic Church in Arima. At the end of those discussions, it was determined that the complex history and relationship between the SRFPC and the Roman Catholic Church in Arima, needs to be properly communicated and explained, if it is to be understood and appreciated.
A dramatic presentation entitled, ‘Hyarima and The Saints’, was staged by Iere Productions, over at the nearby Santa Rosa Park, immediately following a Saturday evening Mass preceding the patronal Feast that year.
Written by Victor Edwards, the content of that scripted presentation revealed a defiant group of indigenous people who vehemently opposed and resisted conversion to Christianity. They saw Christianity as an imposition by the Spanish Capuchins, who were sent to Trinidad as missionaries of the gospel. After years of violent resistance, many among the Indigenous peoples surrendered to the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, beginning a new life in Christ, through the Christian formation provided by the Roman Catholic Church.
In the midst of the reflective scenes, the legend of a little girl wearing a crown consisting of red, white, yellow, and pink roses, who was found in the Pinto forest by Indigenous hunters and believed to be the spirit of Santa Rosa, surfaced for me.
I left the park that night pondering the revelations and sub-themes contained in the play. I pondered the fact that Santa Rosa lived a life of deprivation and poverty. She chose to endure a secluded life of severe austerity and asceticism. She deprived herself of sleep. She slept on a slab of wood, regularly wore a crown of thorns, practised fasting and self-flagellated.
She devoted herself to looking after the sick and hungry in her community, caring for them out of her own financial resources which she gathered from the profits made from selling her embroidery work and flowers from her flower garden.
She contributed money to assist in her family’s efforts to raise funds for the poor. She transformed a room in her parents’ house into a sort of infirmary, where she cared for destitute children and elderly people.
Like Jesus, Rosa emptied herself. She denied herself the riches of life at the time, disfigured her beauty, resisted marriage, choosing instead perpetual virginity.
In September 2018, I led a pilgrimage with parishioners to Lima, Peru, the birthplace of Santa Rosa. While in Lima, not only did I have a first-hand view of the circumstances of simplicity surrounding Rosa’s life of austerity, but I also discovered that Santa Rosa, baptised as Isabel Flores Olivia, came from an Indigenous parental heritage. She had Indigenous blood running in her veins!
I came to better understand her background of self-denial and poverty and it all came together for me: Santa Rosa was the Divine visitor sent by God to identify with the Indigenous people of Arima and through her intercession, initiate the conversion of the Indigenous people to the Christian God.
I continue to think that God – who is the Father of orphans and defender of widows – took special interest in the Indigenous people of Arima, hence the visit by Rosa. Sent by God in the hour of need, a special bond developed between the First Peoples of Arima and Saint Rose of Lima.
According to what is written about the life and times of Santa Rosa, Rosa was beatified in 1668 by Pope Clement IX and declared patron of Lima. Did you know that a Capuchin mission existed in Arima since 1749, 81 years after Rosa was beatified?
Rosa was canonised a saint by Pope Clement X on April 12, 1671. But did you know that this parish of Santa Rosa was erected on April 20, 1786, as a mission to serve the Indigenous people of Arima? That happened 115 years after Rosa was made a saint by the Church.
Are you recognising an interconnection between the Roman Catholic Church and the First Peoples of Arima? The story of the Roman Catholic Church in Arima is the story of the Indigenous people of Arima and vice-versa.
The inter-connection is so deeply embedded in the socio-cultural and spiritual-historical landscape of the people that it cannot be denied. The religiosity of the people has been built on that landscape. The pride of being Arimian is felt and lived against the background of being recognised as the home to the largest organisation of Indigenous peoples on the island of Trinidad.
It is this mixture, this fusion of culture and religious practice that makes the people Jairime! This complex historical union must be celebrated and preserved for generations yet unborn.
That is why as hosts, both the Church and the SRFPC pray the Annual Novena to Santa Rosa. That is why we collaborate in planning and celebrating the Mass and have a procession through the streets of this Royal borough with the decorated statue of Santa Rosa while the parish church bells ring out to the praise of God! These have been features of the Santa Rosa Feast Day celebrations on the Roman Catholic and Arima calendars for over 200 years! Added to that, each year, on August 1, the canon blasts from Calvary Hill at 6 a.m.
That tradition of the canon blast takes us back to the days when the conch shell sounded an alarm and summoned the Indigenous community into action. August also carries us back to 1888, when Arima, a town entrusted to the patronage of Santa Rosa since 1749, became a Royal Borough.