By Kaelanne Jordan
Should you check information such as that of the Trinidad Guardian of October 1, 1963, you will read headlines such as: ‘Four Tobago Villages All Gone…many others taste major destruction’, ‘Flora Batters, Cuts Off Tobago’, ‘Villages destroyed, farm loss heavy…thousands homeless’.
Hurricane Flora has been recorded as one of the most famous hurricanes to affect Tobago, and one of the deadliest Atlantic hurricanes recorded in history. This hurricane flooded and blew through Tobago Monday, September 30, 1963.
Among the approximately 6,250 buildings damaged or destroyed was St Joseph Roman Catholic Church, Bacolet Street, Scarborough. That building rested on grounds directly opposite this present church building, on lands next to the then Assumption House now called the Ark.
The completed construction of that original St Joseph Parish Church took place in 1892. It was blessed and dedicated to St Joseph, January 31, 1892. On Sunday, June 16, 1963, the late Archbishop Count Finbar Ryan OP blessed the stone of this present building.
Agnes Murray, Liaison Officer to the Parish Priest recalled two previous attempts to celebrate the consecration of this church: Friday, April 30, 2021, and Sunday, May 1, 2022. These efforts were made futile due to Covid-19.
As Richard McFarlene tells it, ecumenism in Tobago is a natural “outflow” of Tobago’s culture.
McFarlene, a lay minister at St Joseph RC parish, Scarborough spoke specifically to his experience at St Anthony’s RC Church, Mason Hall, a “wonderful treasure” and a “tight-knit, intimate community.”
Funerals at St Anthony’s, McFarlene said, are less of a church event and more a community event that brings together persons from varied faith traditions: Anglicans, Methodists, Seventh Day Adventists, Pentecostals, and Roman Catholic communities.
He commented that the parish has welcomed regular non-Catholics who “religiously” attend Sunday service at St Anthony’s. “After that, they leave and attend their own communities. And so, it speaks to an understanding that we are truly brothers and sisters at a very basic and foundational level which I think is at the heart of the ecumenical thrust….” McFarlene said.
He emphasised there isn’t any activity that takes place at any one of the faith communities that isn’t supported by “all the others”.
“We regularly invite others to come in and we have consistently been invited to participate in, share with, attend the functions of the others,” he said.
McFarlene gave the example of the Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) Church which marked its 75th anniversary of existence in Mason Hall last October. The guest speaker was Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, a former SDA who was born and raised in Mason Hall.
McFarlene also recalled an incident where the St Anthony’s parish initiated a “major fundraiser” to assist a family who lost their home to fire.
“…[it] didn’t belong to us wholly and solely because every other faith tradition indicated that they wanted to be a part of it. It became a true community initiative ….and it embraced all the members of the communities to bring about what is really a good work in seeking their interest, welfare and wellbeing of a family,” McFarlene said.
He underscored the “unifying” essence that brings together faithful, and Tobagonians is the love for Christ that is expressed, experienced and lived in a tangible way through the care and concern for each other.
“And I think that you see that here. Mason Hall as a community has its particular challenges and difficulties but at the heart of the community is a sense of belonging, a sense of communal responsibility. That is very evident,” McFarlene said.
Searching, exploring…going away…coming back
McFarlene recently facilitated the training of newly commissioned lay ministers who are now serving at St Joseph RC. He is also involved in the preparation of RCIA candidates, most recently, within the last year and Confirmation candidates for the past eight years.
Commenting on the latter, McFarlene acknowledged while youth “fall off” after Confirmation classes, he opined it’s a “natural phenomenon”. He explained, “I think it mirrors growth in natural life. That we get to a particular age, you know late teens, early adulthood and there’s this natural inclination to find, make or shape our own way. To look for it, to really put our stamp on our life and on the world.”
McFarlene added, “And I think the Church does that. The Church allows for searching, exploring, going away, and coming back. It allows for that. And the age of searching … exploration really, is that age that immediately follows Confirmation,” McFarlene said.
He recalled a Jesuit priest at a retreat who emphasised that God’s love can only be experienced after you go away from it, and then return. “And I think that is so very significant for us to hold on to and to not be afraid of our children going away, but making sure that we’ve laid a foundation, a foundation that is sufficient to bring them back,” McFarlene said.
He revealed he left home at 19, migrated to the US and stopped attending church at one point. “But of course, I have a praying mother and a praying wife, thank God. So I’m not necessarily alarmed and too overly concerned about young people who go off. I think what we have to do as a church, be prepared for when they return. Because if our foundation is good, and I had a great foundation, I had a foundation that wasn’t given to me not just by Sr Stanislaus, Sr Jerome right here at Scarborough RC School, or by the parish priests over the years. I had a foundation that was lived out by a truly Catholic family, a Catholic mother and father who lived out the faith in a way that’s admirable,” McFarlene said.
He emphasised he did not require any “external heroes,” his parents were heroes of the faith and heroes of his life.
“So, me and my other nine siblings, we have no excuse to say we were not able to find a hero that we could emulate. We have parents who lived out the Catholic reality spiritually, socially in every aspect that we can appeal to. So that allowed me the flexibility of exploring but it also provided for me a comfort and a reassurance in knowing that I could come back,” McFarlene said.
He spoke of the few higher education opportunities and opportunities for significant professional work to satisfy the needs of all the young people in
Tobago. “Naturally,” McFarlene said, young Tobagonians “must” leave the island, if they desire to continue to seek education and employment.
“And unfortunately, a number of them, when they do that, they move away not just from their family home but the home of the church that they have been attached to….”