By Lara Pickford-Gordon
The year 2020 has been memorable. Although the COVID-19 pandemic seems to have overshadowed most of the year, it brought about positives which would not have happened otherwise.
The Church adapted; the domestic Church was promoted. Catholics learned that beyond the sacred space of church, faith can grow and still be grounded.
The spread of COVID-19 and its impact internationally led to discussion by the local Catholic Church which said it was taking cues from the local health authorities. Parishes were encouraged to be diligent in ensuring best practices related to hygiene (p.12, Catholic News, February 16, 2020).
On March 4, the Archdiocese announced precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. A statement had been issued announcing different measures including: Holy Communion to be received in the hand only, cessation of the distribution of the Precious Blood; no physical contact for the ‘Our Father’ or at the Sign of Peace. Congregations were also advised to exercise hand hygiene (p.3, CN, March 8).
Archbishop Jason Gordon responded to concerns raised about the stopping of the Precious Blood, reassuring that the Blood of Jesus cannot be contaminated but the passing of the chalice from hand to hand can transmit the virus (p.3, CN, March 15).
Subsequent to Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s announcement that educational institutions and learning facilities were to be closed to slow potential spread of the infection, Masses were suspended March 14 at all Catholic churches. This news came via a media release disseminated on the Archdiocese Facebook page March 13. Archbishop Gordon said this was the “hardest decision” he had to make as Archbishop ( p.3, CN, March 22).
During the Ask the Archbishop live chat on Instagram March 17, Archbishop Gordon said the role of the Church is to keep faith alive during this very “dark moment” of history.
Catholics were urged to fulfil their Sunday obligation by participating in Mass on Trinity TV or on Power 102 FM. All weddings, funerals and wakes were limited to 25 or fewer participants with abridged versions of the liturgy, and social distancing in effect (p.13, CN, March 22).
The COVID-19 pandemic provided many teachable moments for Archbishop Gordon as he shepherded the flock through distressing times. Lockdown happened during the Lenten period and he urged Catholics to use the “desert” of fasting from the Eucharist as “privileged space”. He said the Lenten period was a time to fast like never before. He called for a return to the family rosary.
Pastoral Guidelines “Being Church in a Time of Covid-19” March 27, 2020 were published. It dealt with how the Church would respond to the Sacraments including the Sacrament of the Eucharist, Funeral Services, and the Sacrament of Marriage.
It also outlined the format for Holy Week in keeping with the mandate of the Holy Pontiff through the Congregation for Divine Worship, and the Discipline of the Sacraments decree dated March 19 (p. 8-9, CN, April 5).
Archbishop Gordon and other religious leaders took part in a National Day of Prayer on March 29 to offer up prayers as the country dealt with COVID-19 (p.3, CN, April 5).
Masses for Palm Sunday and the Easter Triduum were held virtually. The Triduum (April 9–11) and Pentecost Mass May 30 were held at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Port of Spain. The imagery of the desert and the Upper Room were used during the period.
At the Pentecost Mass, Archbishop Gordon said that the Church was on mission to bring about a renewal of families, church and civilisation. He assured the same wind of God that gave breath to new creation breathes on them that day for the missioning of Catholic families as domestic Church.
Prime Minister Rowley announced the easing of restrictions with places of worship reopened from June 11. A statement from the Office of the Prime Minister reminded all worshippers to strictly observe the guidelines for sanitising, distancing and mask wearing. Services were to be limited to one hour.
Archbishop Gordon called the reopening a new springtime but also appealed for patience since not all could be accommodated in church. He urged persons in the high-risk group to remain indoors and secluded, parishioners who could not be physically present were to follow on television.
He announced a decree would be issued stating that persons would have fulfilled their Sunday obligation “any day of the week when you attend Mass” (p.3, CN, June 14).
The ‘Guidelines for the Restoration of Masses in the Archdiocese’ was issued in June outlining recommendations to be followed. Seating was restricted to 50 per cent of maximum capacity and congregants had to sanitise their hands before entering churches and wear masks within the church.
Instructions were published for the receipt of Holy Communion (p.3, CN, June 21). An online registration system called Calendly was introduced in June for parishioners to book a seat given the restrictions on numbers.
The Corpus Christi Mass was celebrated at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception minus the traditional procession. After participating in the Mass on television, radio or online, the faithful were asked to proceed to their nearest worshipping community carpark to receive Holy Communion (p.10, CN, June 21).
The administering of the sacraments of Confirmation and First Communion resumed. Candidates of St Patrick’s RC Church, Newtown were the first in the Archdiocese to be confirmed July 24 after the reopening. Children of the Santa Rosa/Malabar Cluster received First Communion July 26 (p.5, CN, August 2).
Places of worship were closed from August 15 after Prime Minister Rowley announced a resumption of restrictions after community spread of COVID started.
However, by October places of worship were reopened again and Archbishop Gordon encouraged the faithful to register for Masses October 31-November 1, “please go and register so we know who is coming.”
The Archdiocese, through its established Health, Safety and Environment committee published bulletin #7 for the Reopening of Churches (p. 3, CN, November 8).
Pupils of the Standard Five Secondary Entrance Assessment class of the Maraval RC Primary had to be tested after one of their peers was confirmed July 24 to have the coronavirus. Contact tracing had to be done and SEA classes were suspended. The school, the Our Lady of Lourdes RC Church, and the Our Lady of Guadalupe RC Church, Paramin were sanitised (p.3, CN, August 2).
The Society of St Vincent de Paul, which manages the Centre for Socially Displaced Persons (CSDP) at the NIPDEC carpark, Town Council Street, Port of Spain, on behalf of the government, was prepared for an influx of persons during the pandemic. A shelter was erected by the army on the ground floor of the CSDP and handed over to be run by the SVP April 9 (p.5, CN, May 3).
The closure of all schools in March shifted education online. Archbishop Gordon and officials of the Catholic Education Board of Management (CEBM) met with then Education Minister Anthony Garcia April 14 on continued tuition for pupils of RC schools. The Ministry of Education accepted an offer from the CEBM to collaborate on the use of television programming to contribute to the Ministry’s Learning Management System and teacher training (p.3, CN, April 19).
The Archdiocese launched Donate a Device in April to get assistance for pupils who did not have devices to access online classes. The public was advised to contact email@example.com.
Prior to this, Archbishop Gordon had appealed for computers, tablets, and smartphones (p. 3, CN, April 19). Distribution of devices subsequently took place for teachers and pupils (p.22, CN, May 31).
The new academic year and school term started September 1, with orientation and planning for curriculum delivery. Classes commenced from September 7 with RC schools using online platforms, social media, and printed material for students who did not have access to the internet (p.6, CN, September 6).
Church mobilises help
To ease the hardship faced by many during the pandemic, the Archdiocese mobilised parishes. Archbishop Gordon directed parishes to establish Social Needs Committees to support the Archdiocese’s hotline 607-HOPE (4673). Clergy were asked to engage their Ministry Animation Teams, parish councils and deacons to assist in creating solidarity networks in their parish (p.3, CN, April 26).
Parishes, ecclesial communities, Catholic primary and secondary schools, and other church organisations prepared and distributed food hampers to assist persons in need (p.5, CN, May 10).
The closure of T&T’s borders, reduction of food imports and hunger which many faced during the pandemic led to a call from the Archdiocese for households, where possible, to grow their own food. Archbishop Gordon led by example with a section of land at Archbishop’s House set aside for growing food crops (p.3, CN, July 19).
The Franciscan Institute for Personal and Family Development hosted a discussion on Human Trafficking January 31 at the University of the West Indies Chaplaincy, St Augustine.
The Archdiocesan Family Life Commission hosted a virtual panel discussion on Domestic Violence March 14.
Black Lives Matter. The killing of George Floyd drew responses from Archbishop Gordon and the bishops of the Antilles Episcopal Conference (p. 4-5, CN, June 14), and the Conference on Theology in the Caribbean Today hosted an online forum ‘Black Lives Matter: Caribbean Theological Perspectives’ (p.11, CN, July 26).
Racism was again in the local news following racist comments made on social media after the August 10 General Election. At the end of Mass August 13 at Archbishop’s House, Archbishop Gordon said, “This is a serious moment, a moment where we have to stop, pray and where we have to call out people who are being racist”. The Catholic Commission for Social Justice (CCSJ) called on all citizens to denounce racism (p.5, CN, August 23).
The Archdiocese through the CCSJ hosted a virtual symposium June 5 on ‘Marijuana and cannabinoids: Health, research and regulatory considerations’ to discuss the potential negative effects of marijuana and cannabinoids. This was in response to amendments to the Dangerous Drugs Act which enables all adults to smoke a certain amount of cannabis and cannabis resin (p.3, CN, June 14).
Discussions took place on welcoming migrant children into Catholic primary schools. Archbishop Gordon said the initiative was an opportunity to help integrate migrant children into the national community and encourage local pupils to become conversational in Spanish (p.5, CN, October 25).
The World Day of Migrants and Refugees on September 27 took on added significance this year with the influx of Venezuelans fleeing their homeland. The Catholic News shared the perspective of migrants (p.12-13, September 27 issue).
Trinidadian Rev Mikhail Woodruffe O Carm was ordained a Carmelite priest May 30 at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Middletown, New York, USA (p.5, CN, June 7).
Trinidadian Rev Collin Jackson was ordained a priest August 6 for the Diocese of Kingstown, St Vincent and the Grenadines (p.5, CN, August 16).
Permanent deacon Rev Paul Bousignac, at 77 years, was ordained to the priesthood on Republic Day, September 24 (p.3, CN, October 4).
Rev Antony Buaful OSB of Ghana was ordained at Our Lady of Exile Abbey Church, Mt St Benedict, Thursday, September 10. Fr Buaful was to be ordained July 19 in Ghana but the closure of borders with the COVID-19 pandemic caused postponement.
Following the advice from the Archbishop in Ghana, the Prior of the Kristo Buase Monastery asked permission for the rite to take place in Trinidad. The Ordination Mass was livestreamed on Facebook with few persons present in keeping with the COVID restrictions.
Zion Community and Christ Our Redeemer (COR) celebrated 40 years. Couples for Christ celebrated 22 years January 26. The Catholic Charismatic Renewal began a year-long golden jubilee celebration; the 50th anniversary of the Black Power Movement was commemorated with a Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Ash Wednesday.
On February 6, the first group of permanent deacons who were ordained by then Archbishop Edward Gilbert CSsR celebrated a decade of service to the Church. Companions of the Transfigured Christ hit their 20th anniversary milestone August 6, Feast of the Transfiguration. The Assumption Charismatic Prayer Group celebrated 25 years. Poole RC Primary marked its 100th year as an educational institution and Fatima College celebrated 75 years.