By Leela Ramdeen, Chair, CCSJ & Director, CREDI
Recently I visited Mt St Benedict. Since my childhood I have always found it spiritually uplifting to pray in that sacred space. The abbey church and its surroundings fill one with peace/serenity.
When I attended Holy Faith Convent, Couva, I was a member of the Girl Guides. I recall walking with other Girl Guides up St John’s Road to this church, praying the rosary as we walked. Today many persons, Catholics and persons of other faiths, continue to walk up to the church, almost like a pilgrimage.
During my recent visit, as I came out of the church after praying, a woman called out to me: “Ent you is dat Catholic lady who does write in de Guardian?”. I sat next to her and we chatted for a while.
She was waiting for her new car to be blessed by a priest. She is not a Catholic but said that she often comes to pray in the church there.
I was reminded of this incident when I read today’s First Reading, Isaiah 56:1, 6–7: “…my house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples”.
If we wish to regenerate the moral and spiritual values of our society, we must nurture respect for our sacred spaces.
As Bishop Joseph Perry has said: “Since the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965), we have succeeded in educating ourselves that we are the Church; that the Church, first off, is made up of people. People are more sacred than anything we value. It follows that the place where we believers assemble each week is sacred because we are a holy people…we are called to holiness…Our Catholic faith embodies an ancient principle of religion called sacred space…The church building is indeed a special place…We give sacred space and sacred objects due reverence…
While we strive to see holiness first in each other, there is still room for an essential reverence paid to the sacred place of the assembly and the objects, vessels and appointments used in worship…We teach our children a proper reverence for the church, its art, candles, furniture, books of the altar and pulpit and vessels, so that certain kinds of behaviour in church space is always out of place. …
We live in a society which has discarded long-held courtesies and formalities connected with a lot of things…we need a reverence for God, the things of God and one another…sacred space and sacred things serves only to remind us that we each are sacred…Postures of respect and reverence cannot help but model us for viewing all of life as sacred.”
I recall how in my youth, my devout Catholic mother would often ‘dress-up’ her seven children and my Hindu father would drive us around T&T to pray the nine-churches novena.
He would join us in the church and sit quietly while we prayed. Since then I have developed a habit of going on pilgrimages. Don’t underestimate the spiritual value of pilgrimages—not only to pray for special intentions, but to give thanks to God for His many gifts, not only to us, but to all of humanity. Over the years I have joined others on pilgrimage to many shrines/holy places.
When I was Vice-Chair of Cardinal Basil Hume’s Committee for the Caribbean community, with the Cardinal as Chair, I helped to organise the annual Caribbean Pilgrimage to the National Shrine and Basilica of Our Lady of Walsingham, Slipper Chapel Site, Norfolk, England.
I pay tribute to Sr Monica Tywang, Fr Rochard’s cousin, whose tireless work in the Lord’s vineyard includes playing a major role in organising this annual pilgrimage.
It was with great joy that I followed the livestream on March 29, 2020, as one of 530,000 persons around the world, when England was rededicated “in humble service to God Almighty, under the patronage of Our Lady of Walsingham” as the Dowry of Mary (Message from Pope Francis).
“The first dedication (1381) was made by King Richard II in Westminster Abbey as he sought the protection of Our Lady in the face of great political turmoil. At this point, England received the title ‘Mary’s Dowry’; meaning that England was ‘set aside’ as a gift, a dowry, for Our Lady under her guidance and protection (www.walsingham.org.uk).
Cardinal Vincent Nichols’ words are noteworthy. He said: “We are Mary’s Dowry! Please enrich that Dowry by offering to her the best that you can give…”
As Mary said: “Do whatever He tells you” (Jn 2:5).
Do not grieve or complain that you were born in a time when you can no longer see God in the flesh. He did not in fact take this privilege from you. As He says: ‘Whatever you have done to the least of my brothers, you did to me.’
— St Augustine of Hippoo
CCSJ Social Justice Education Committee