This Thursday, March 12 is the 20th anniversary of the death of Archbishop Anthony Pantin, the eighth archbishop of Port of Spain. Though no longer present in body, his words of wisdom and wit live in the minds and hearts of many. Senior writer Lara Pickford-Gordon spoke with a few on one of his most endearing traits.
“You ever heard this one?” Archbishop Anthony Pantin would say this before sharing one of his jokes. In a nation where mocking humour and cutting opponents down to size is a national pastime, the late Archbishop used his wit to positive effect. And he could give picong, too! Many people can still fondly quote his jokes.
Bishop Emeritus Malcolm Galt knew Archbishop Pantin since boyhood in the late 1930s. They were not in the same classes but got to know each other at St Mary’s College in the Sixth Trinidad Sea Scouts, through which Fr Toba Valdez CSSp was promoting vocations. Then, he was simply ‘Tony’ Pantin and his elder brother Gerard, ‘Gerry’. Both got into St Mary’s on an ‘exhibition’: “He was a special boy—the special boys in those days were the scholarship winners. They were called the exhibitioners,” Bishop Galt said.
Pantin, he reflects, was someone who “did extraordinary things in a very ordinary way”. They were prefects at St Mary’s, novices together in the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, and studied theology together.
He described Archbishop Pantin’s jokes as “clerical jokes”. Archbishop Pantin’s routine was to rise around 3.30 a.m., get ready, go to the chapel at Archbishop’s House to pray, then to his office.
“At about half past five all of the bishops knew that was the time to get Archbishop Pantin…otherwise he was everywhere. Whenever he rang me, he would always start with a joke”.
Bishop Galt remembered the last joke Archbishop Pantin told him. It was the Saturday before he died. “He rang about midday, that was out of the ordinary. We were talking about someone…whoever it was has a chip on their shoulder that’s why he is not balanced, and Tony said he has a chip on both shoulders, so he is very well balanced,” Bishop Galt related.
Archbishop Pantin was at home with the poorest of the poor and everyone else. While there were those who had concerns for security, and cleanliness with vagrants entering Archbishop’s House, Bishop Galt said the Archbishop’s attitude was “no matter who it is, the poorest poor, the vagrant, you know, has a right to meet the Archbishop in his office”.
Joke: Why is a sense of humour more important than even being in a state of grace? Answer: Because if you lose your state of grace, you can get it back, but if you lose your sense of humour you will not get it back.
Fr Michael Cockburn commented that Archbishop Pantin would use “Catholic language” in telling some of his jokes. “That statement ‘state of grace’ is an old Catholic catch-phrase… Being in a state of grace is supposed to be the most important ranking… make you in sync with God and man and guarantees your salvation so the question is why is a sense of humour more important than even being in a state of grace and with a smile he gave a simple answer.”
Fr Cockburn saw Archbishop Pantin’s demeanor encapsulated in this joke. There was a joke for different occasions—while delivering the homily at Mass, at meetings, during socialising.
Archbishop Pantin presided at a Good Friday Service at the Cathedral and used the chance to give a little picong. He reportedly said, “I want to begin this Good Friday by wishing each and every one of you a very merry Christmas because I know many of you will not be here until next Good Friday.” Fr Cockburn recounted his opening was said with “great joy”.
There were women who liked to ‘mamaguy’ the Archbishop, and one of them asked him before Carnival, “Your Grace, you playing mas this year?” He responded: “I am playing mas yes; I am playing J’Ouvert”. The women then asked: “How are you going to dress up?” Archbishop Pantin replied: “I will be dressing up like a holy water bottle; I will be a blessing in disguise”.
Fr Cockburn thinks Archbishop Pantin knew not to take himself too seriously and this made him approachable. He gave people hope and had a spirituality that was integral to who he was. There was no “external PR approach”.
Retired principal, Felix Edinborough, ‘Pierrot Grenade’ agreed that Archbishop Pantin’s humour put people at ease and made them feel he was not talking down to them.
He said humour in public speaking helped listeners to feel comfortable and stay engaged. Archbishop Pantin sounded like a friend when he talked. “That’s a Jesus personality. Jesus talked to people at the side of the road. He came down to your level,” he added.
When it was announced Pantin would be this country’s next archbishop he told Edinborough, “I like cricket, [but] now I am Archbishop I would have to stop”. Of course, this provoked the question “Why?”
“The people would not like to know their Archbishop bowled a maiden over!”