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On a mission to build a better East Port of Spain

By Klysha Best

What does it mean to be on a mission? A mission signifies purposeful movement—being sent from one place to another for a purpose.

Fr Matthew d’Hereaux is on a mission to do so much more for the cluster of parishes that he now calls home, Holy Rosary Church at the corner of Henry and Park Street, Port of Spain, a national Marian Shrine, and St Martin De Porres Church in Gonzales.

Fr Matthew d’Hereaux

Fr d’Hereaux took responsibility of both churches as parish priest on January 5 after spending five and a half years at St Joseph RC, St Joseph.

Both churches fall within what the police like to call “hot spots” – a term Fr d’Hereaux dislikes. However, the sporadic sounds of gunshots are a reality in these areas, but not their defining factor. Fr d’Hereaux admitted that this is a challenge.

Soon after taking charge of these parishes, there was a murder outside the Gloster Lodge Moravian Primary School, then the mass shooting at Harpe Place, and a murder outside KFC’s Duke Street outlet.

“I officiated the funerals of three of the men killed in the mass shooting at Harpe Place and it was tough. That was three funerals of three young men, over three days, during the Holy Week…I’ve also had to deal with a culture shock,” he said.

He had grown accustomed to large congregations and “moving from preaching to 700 people on a weekend to 200 to 250 now took some getting used to.”

In the ‘small-ish’ communities, he found something that may not be found in larger parishes: more community building, “and that’s what I have found with Rosary and St Martin’s.”

Fr d’Hereaux added that he’s trying to use the catalyst of community to invite other people who have strayed for one reason or the other.

“I want to demonstrate that the arms of the Church are open. There is a lot that the Church could do with, in, through, and for these communities.”

Although a fairly young priest at 51 years old, Fr d’Hereaux said he is also facing the challenge of being relevant to the youth.

“I consider all the time how to be relevant to the young people in these communities, giving homilies that are relevant and creating activities in the church that they will also find relevant.”

So far, he has been making some inroads. “I do a lot of walk-arounds, visiting the elderly and the infirmed. I am always stopping to greet and chat with people on street corners, going into homes. I am not waiting for people to come to weekday Mass. Folks can register if they want a Mass in their homes.”

Fr d’Hereaux is also partnering with other organisations, as well as the councillors of the area, to start an employment registry, finding out who is unemployed, what their skills are, and how they can be assisted.

“We are even going to partner with the Ministry of Youth Development and National Service and we are going to get their programmes to be promoted within the community to sort of link the unemployed youth or youths between jobs and those government programmes.”

He added, “Some of these programmes have stipends attached so that they will be able to increase their skills base or ‘skill up’ as they say, to make themselves more marketable and employable. We also want to look at entrepreneurial activity.”

He said he wants those in these communities, especially the youth, to understand that the Church cares about their social, spiritual, and physical welfare, “the rest they give to God.”

Fr d’Hereaux also has a mission to reach out to the elderly in these communities. “I intend, over the next three months, to get senior citizens out of their homes via excursions.”

The plan is to take them, and one chaperone to have Service at Mount St Benedict, visit the Western Peninsula, the Waterfront Project in San Fernando, and other places so that they can see something other than their four walls.

On the topic of crime, Fr d’Hereaux said structural changes need to be made with respect to the legal and illegal importation of guns. “Because of the easy availability of guns, it has now become an easy way out and we need to get the guns off the streets.”

“On another level, we need a culture of dialogue, a culture of peace, a culture of reasoning our situations, rather than using the gun. It is a multi-headed monster that needs a multi-pronged solution.”

Fr d’Hereaux said the Church can only do so much with its current resources. However, he noted that the Catholic community has not wrapped its head around who the Church is.

“If your understanding of the Church is bishops, priests, and the people, then the church is not doing enough, because the people in the pews are not doing enough. Whereas, if you think the Church is bishops and priests alone, that is a complete misunderstanding of the Church, and therefore there will be a misunderstanding of what has to be done….The Church is all of the baptised and all the baptised could do more.”

Fr d’Hereaux said his hope for the people and communities of both his parishes, is that they have a deep encounter with God and will want to come to the table of the Word and the table of the Eucharist almost every day of their lives and gain the strength, the focus and the determination and passion, to have mission in their communities – a mission of empowerment, a mission of inclusion, a mission of dialogue.

“I would like to know that during my time, my parishioners come to love the Eucharist and because of that love of the Eucharist, they love their communities even more.”