Stories by Lara Pickford-Gordon
Archbishop Jason Gordon has reiterated that the Catholic Church in Trinidad and Tobago will continue to assist migrants coming from Venezuela because the “common good” was served.
“Right now we are simply trying to help those who are coming” he said. The “worst thing” the country could do was neglect the migrants because this could lead them to a life of crime and “go into the underworld”.
The Archbishop was speaking at a media briefing December 20 at Archbishop’s House on the visit of Fr Robert Stark SSS, Vatican regional representative of the Refugees and Migrants Section.
Archbishop Gordon acknowledged that because of T&T’s size there would be a limit to the number of migrants that could be assisted. He said, “I don’t know what the number is, but if we accept a million Venezuelans, we will no longer be the country that we are.”
During the Q and A, the Archbishop was asked if there was a “built-in tension” between the Church’s mission and the government’s responsibility. He responded the government had a responsibility to secure the nation’s borders and slow down or stop the flow of migrants if necessary, to ensure the country did not “cross that critical number of the common good”.
But, he added, the Church also had its responsibility. “We have to ensure whoever comes is going to be treated like a human being with incredible dignity and given what they need to have a good life”. Archbishop Gordon did not see the tension as negative saying government and Church can work together for the common good.
Archbishop Gordon said the number of migrants received by the Living Water Community (LWC) when he visited January 2018 was about 65, two to three times weekly. By March this increased to 95 and is now over 1,100 migrants monthly.
He gave a synopsis of the LWC’s involvement in the migrant ministry commenting the increase was “unprecedented”. Last year parishes were asked to set up migrant ministries. He said, “We have 20 parishes doing incredible work, but they are saying ‘We can’t keep up with this either’ because the numbers are escalating every single day”.
He said it was a “miracle” what has been done in a short time with very little resources. The “next stage” will be the Archdiocese’s strengthening of parish ministries. Archbishop Gordon added, “It is better to deal with people in smaller pockets out in a decentralised ministry…south, east and north and west.”
The Living Water Community, the implementing agency locally for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) will do its part but parishes will assist “in the caring, in the shelter. Education of children is a big thing.”
A few months ago, the Archdiocesan Ministry for Migrants and Refugees (AMMR) submitted a proposal for funding to the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development; the Migrants and Refugees Section is under the purview of the Dicastery.
Chair of the AMMR Leela Ramdeen said the government had asked the Catholic Church to help with education but the AMMR did not have enough resources. The purpose of Fr Stark’s visit was to “listen and learn” about the ministries to migrants and refugees.
“We have taken him around to Carenage, Penal, Arima, Mayaro and he has been able to experience different practices in different areas and in each area, there were different strengths,” Ramdeen said.
The proposal seeks funding for the salary of the AMMR coordinator and to strengthen the existing 20 parishes with migrant ministries and six “fledgling” groups. A needs assessment is being done in conjunction with parishes.
“We will have to look at the priorities for each parish,” Ramdeen said. A standard system of accountability will have to be established. She made it clear the funding was not to be ongoing; the interventions for migrants had to be sustainable and ways found to fund ministries.