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March 2, 2019
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We cannot divorce ourselves—Archbishop on Carnival

By Kaelanne Jordan, kjordan.camsel@rcpos.org

Archbishop Jason Gordon has declared that he cannot “remove” himself “entirely” from Carnival and neither should the Catholic Church be removed from the festival. He reasoned if there’s an “ailment” in society, the Church has to be a field hospital.

“How are you going to be field hospital if you are totally divorced from the patient?” Archbishop Gordon asked during a conversation on Shepherd’s Corner with host Andy Johnson. The pre-recorded episode was to be aired last Thursday on Trinity TV in its usual time slot, 8 p.m.

The Archbishop maintained that Carnival is not the “problem”. He said the lack of boundaries in Carnival is a mirror to the lack of boundaries in T&T. He explained, “We are a rambunctious democracy that wants complete freedom but sometimes when freedom is pushed too far what you have is a licentiousness that really deadens the soul and creates the malady that has become Trinidad and Tobago…. But we not understanding paradox—that freedom requires responsibility if freedom is going to remain free.”

Johnson brought to the attention of the Archbishop persons playing mas Carnival Monday and Tuesday and going for ashes on Wednesday. He shared the view that some would label it hypocrisy.

Archbishop Gordon replied that all rituals have its own logic. The point of ritual is containment. He said the “fleshiness” of Carnival is contained in a ritual that does not defy or ought not defy the moral norm. Rather, it is intended to “push” persons to the edge of existence.

“At that edge, then this thing ends, and this next thing begins. And there’s a catharsis in moving from the excess of worldly pleasure to the deep austerity of Lenten penance. And that movement creates in the soul a movement towards God and recognition that all of that joy and happiness that we had for those couple days is a very earthly thing but this really takes us to another place and another level that that cannot touch.”

It is in this contrast, the Archbishop commented, that the catharsis occurs and helps the penitent of Ash Wednesday to spend the 40 days considering the eternal destiny of the human condition.

Archbishop Gordon was asked to share his thoughts on Christian denominations that stay away from Carnival. To this, he read a quote from Four Years’ Residence in the West Indies by FWN Bayley, emphasising the conversation on morality—Four Years’ was written in 1833—is a very “old” conversation.

“…because the sense of the lewdness in Carnival has been a sub-theme in the British history of Trinidad and Tobago,” he said. He further added that there is much happening in Carnival which he considers to be “absolutely immoral”.

“And that transformation is part of the social fabric of our society. But if you start criticising that…you miss the point of why we have come to that and therefore, what the remedy is in moving us to the next stage of our social development,” he said.

On the issue of priests and religious sisters participating in Carnival, Archbishop Gordon told host Johnson that he’s aware of those who have participated. His only warning is that they ought to “know both yourself and the mas you’re playing”.