By Leela Ramdeen, Chair, CCSJ (http://rcsocialjusticett.org) & Director, CREDI
Today we gather at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception to give thanks to God for the vocation/fidelity to ministry of Archbishop Joseph Harris, the 10th Archbishop of our Archdiocese. In compliance with Canon 401(1) of the Code of Canon Law, His Grace submitted his resignation to Pope Francis in March 2017 when he reached the age of 75. He was 75 on March 19. Pope Francis accepted his resignation and on October 19, It was announced at a Press Conference that the Holy Father has appointed Archbishop-elect, Jason Gordon, as our next Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Port of Spain. He will be installed on December 27, 2017.
St Paul urges us to live in a manner worthy of our vocation (Ephesians 4:1–3). On December 26, 2011 Archbishop Harris was entrusted with the care of the ‘flock’ in our Archdiocese. Like a good Shepherd, he recognised that his duty extended to all those who dwell in our beloved twin-island and beyond, and to all God’s creation. Catholics do not live in isolation but in community. We are called to build right relationships with others and with our environment.
In his encyclical, Laudato Si’, Pope Francis calls this concept: “integral ecology…everything is closely related…today’s problems call for a vision capable of taking into account every aspect of the global crisis.” His Grace’s work clearly demonstrated that he sees the interconnectedness of environmental, economic, political, social, cultural, and ethical issues.
In June 2017, Pope Francis told newly appointed archbishops not to be “armchair Catholics” but apostles on the go,” who are on fire with love for God and ready to offer their lives for him”. Apostles of Christ “know that they cannot just tread water or take the easy way out, but have to risk putting out into the deep, daily renewing their self-offering” (www.osv.com).
Archbishop Harris certainly did not just tread water but put out into the deep, demonstrating his pastoral skills in so many ways. He brought his many and varied experiences to bear on his role as Shepherd—teaching, governing and sanctifying us all. His commitment to the Church and her teaching is evident, for example, in his two pastoral letters, Merciful like the Father and Return to Hospitality, his TV/TCN “teaching” programme: ‘Shepherd’s Corner’, his Gospel reflections in Catholic News, and in his devoted service to those entrusted to his care— encouraging us to live “missionary” lives.
He was no “armchair Catholic” but impacted the lives of people and confronted the challenges of our time. He spoke out on child marriages and the death penalty; on the need to invest in the elderly and youth, and for improved conditions in T&T’s prison remand yard. He led a petition during the Jubilee Year of Mercy, asking the authorities that a “review be undertaken of those who are serving prison sentences and who are found to be worthy of pardon and mercy, be granted their liberty,” and “those charged for minor offences and have been held in remand for a long time, some of whom if and when sentenced would have already served that time in remand, that similar consideration of mercy may be afforded them.”
Who could forget his passionate plea in July 2016 for T&T to address our “inadequate education system”? He addressed this issue as a panellist at UWI, St Augustine, in a discussion on the theme: Remand Justice—God’s Law. Inter alia, he said: “We have not as a people developed a system of education which takes into account different aptitudes and different learning systems. We push everybody into the grammar school type of education. The result of that, is that, we condemn many young people to be considered failures and to consider themselves as failures because they leave school without any O’ Level passes…
“Because of our education system so many of our young men and women after school begin a life of petty crime and then graduate to more serious offences. Our education system is basically a rebel school education system. People who don’t have the aptitude get left by the wayside and that is a breeding ground for remand.”
Your Grace, may you continue to serve Christ in all that you do. Be assured of our prayers. You stand out as an exemplar at a time when our country/world is in dire need of leaders who strive to fulfil their responsibilities with integrity. We thank God for your 49 years of selfless priestly service.