The Catholic News did not go to press August 5, 1990. It was the second time the paper did not reach readers due to the events of July 27 when leader of the Jamaat al Muslimeen Yasin Abu Bakr staged a coup.
It began on that day and ended August 1, Emancipation Day with his and his followers’ surrender. There were 24 dead, several wounded and the landscape of the capital “ravaged”.
This year is 30 years since the coup. The memory seemed to resurrect in the minds of some citizens with the unrest in parts of Port of Spain and environs last month. Here are a few excerpts from the Catholic News’ archives.
An Appeal for Tolerance and Understanding
This was the headline of the Catholic News’ article pages 8–9, August 12. It reported a “dense crowd” gathered at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception for the Mass of thanksgiving August 5 presided by Archbishop Anthony Pantin. Co-celebrants were Fr Christian Pereira, Cathedral administrator and Fr Cyril Ross.
The talking points of Archbishop’s sermon were: “Thanks be to God, thanks to the people, condolences, traumatic experience, appeal to politicians, forgiveness, serious questions and the rebuilding of Port of Spain.”
Speaking on the traumatic events of 1990, Archbishop Pantin stated: “What we need more than ever before is unity and the ardent desire to see our beloved country go in the right direction. So, within the bosom of our families, in our neighborhoods, in the mass media and especially in political circles, I make an appeal for tolerance, understanding, and patience, for that is what real love is about”.
He said on forgiveness, “It is for our own sake we have to learn to forgive nor must we allow ourselves to take pleasure in seeing those who erred pay for their misdeeds”.
“…I feel for all of you who have suffered whether through the death of loved ones or through financial loss. But I would not be doing my duty if I said it was permissible for you to get your own back, especially on those whose only crime is that they are related to culprits. It is we who lose when we allow the venom of hatred and revenge to circulate through our spiritual veins.”
Archbishop Pantin posed a few questions for reflection. The first: “Each one of us must ask himself or herself: in what way am I responsible for this horrific crisis? Everything was building up right under our noses, so to speak and yet it happened. We must not be too quick to absolve ourselves from blame…
We may be responsible for what happened Friday, July 27, if only because of neglect. This is why the Church so wisely instructs us to ask pardon of God and of each other “for what I have done and what I have failed to do”.
Archbishop Pantin stated his second question was a “double question”.
“Why is it so many of our young people become alienated from their Church and family and allied themselves to accept a way of life so intimately associated with violence and what can we do, what must we do to ensure our young people feel part and parcel of community, and preserve their keep (sic) sense of justice without having to resort to the gun?”
The Rebuilding of Port of Spain
“The rebuilding of Port of Spain must be a people event, a flesh and blood happening and not just an effort in concrete and steel”.
The sermon concluded: “When it comes to the kind of Trinidad and Tobago we want to build, the kind of Port of Spain we want to live in, the kind of people we want to be, that is up to you and me. May our Blessed Mother to whose Immaculate Conception this Cathedral has been specially dedicated and to whom we have been praying in a very special way over the last eight or nine days, may she continue to enfold us in her maternal love and assist us in becoming more and more like her Son Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, to whom be the glory, praise and thanksgiving for ever and ever. Amen”.
Rising from the Ashes
Excerpts from Page 1 written by Editor Fr Peter Nicholson CSSp.
“It was the fanatical approach of one misguided leader who sought to destroy our democratic way of life and seize power for his faction. This must be eliminated from the roots, not only by stricter vigilance over drugs and arms entering the country but also (and more importantly) by a renewal of loyalty and discipline at family, schools, and religious levels. Youth must be protected from corrupt consciences in a society that has little respect for authority.
While deploring the parliamentary coup with the accompanying death and injuries, we must also condemn the inhumane treatment of the hostages, particularly our Prime Minister who was singled out for special abuse. We must commend his extraordinary courage in the face of possible death ad his uppermost concern for the welfare of his fellow hostages and nation as a whole.”
“‘Out of evil cometh good.’ Not that this can be an excuse for doing wrong. But in fact, the recent crisis provided some admirable situations and selfless deeds of valour. When those in a common crisis, people who have never acknowledged each other now speak quite freely. Neighbouring groups come together to say the Rosary or have inter-faith prayer service, small spontaneous food centres have sprung up so meals are shared, and the poor never go hungry. This is good thinking and good living which ought to be promoted even when no crisis threatens.”
Imam Yasin Abu Bakr: Deluded Fanatic Political Agitator or Instrument of Divine Judgement?
Catholic News August 19, pages 8–9
Written by Jason Gordon, who was ordained to the diaconate that Sunday.
“If Abu Bakr is not the suffering servant, then, can the present crisis and the suffering that it has brought be explained away as the suffering of the innocent in the tradition of Job? Can our country be called innocent when there is rising unemployment, a growing vagrant population, an increasing number of drug addicts, battered children and reports of rape and incest?”
“The social crisis which started on July 27, 1990 could possibly be seen as a warning, and a shaking up of our nation to take its social responsibility seriously (the tradition of divine judgement).
The word of the biblical prophets about injustice and oppression can easily be addressed to us. In the face of such suffering have we been complacent, apathetic people content to give a token offering, not digging deep to the heart of the problem?
The crisis is by no means over; Abu Bakr has been arrested but the suffering of our people and the mechanisms which produce this suffering are still well entrenched.
If we are willing to go back to our complacency, if we are willing to shut our eyes to the real suffering and injustice in our nation, if we are willing to shut our ears and not listen to the real cries of our people, then the words of Jesus quoting the prophecy of Isaiah will be fulfilled:
Listen and listen, but never understand! Look and look, but never perceive! This people’s heart has grown coarse, their ears dulled, they have shut their eyes tight to avoid using their eyes to see, their ears to hear, their heart to understand, changing their ways and being healed by me.
Beloved brothers and sisters of Trinidad and Tobago, I set before you two roads, life and death; either we take our social responsibility seriously and search together to find solutions to our social problems based upon justice and authentic development, or we continue with our social irresponsibility which will lead to greater suffering of the people and greater social unrest. Which road are we going to take?”
The Bloodstained Red House
August 26, pages 8–9
Sr Marie Thérèse Rétout OP recounts a tour of the Red House Monday, August 13.
“The horrendous story of the victims—most of them members of parliament—is partly told by the many objects still strewn on the carpet of the Chamber: cotton wool, white table cloths and towels soaked in blood, a surgical glove, an elastic bandage, a little bottle of smelling salts, a empty plastic packet of Strepsil tablets, a can of air freshener, a pair of grey socks (close to the seat of the Prime Minister), teacups and teabags, jugs, two tins of Nescafé, sugar in bags and saucers, a shoe here and there, tissue paper, two or three copies of Time magazine, strips of telephone lines hanging from desks and from the Speaker’s Throne, chairs in disorder and traces of bullets everywhere.”