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One of the biggest challenges facing the Roman Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Port-of-Spain today has nothing to do with doctrine, dogma or dereliction of duty. It is the money necessary to restore its mother church—the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception—back to its former glory.
And it’s a large sum. Archbishop Joseph Harris in a recent media briefing put it at $70 million and at the time of speaking—just slightly more than a year of the launch of the appeal, only $15 million had been raised. But the biggest fear of His Grace is that if the present work is forced to a halt because of lack of funds, the $70 million could rocket to close to $100 million.
Okay, so we are talking big money…big, big money and while the task may seem very difficult, it is not impossible. And while Catholics might feel totally responsible for the restoration of the cathedral, the nation has to be reminded that the building is regarded as one of the country’s National Heritage Sites and as such, while owned by the Catholic Church, actually “belongs” to the entire national community.
It is no secret how Trinidadians and Tobagonians feel about preservation of heritage sites and buildings which are steeped in history and so rich in architectural uniqueness and beauty. Apart from the few who make their feelings known about the absolute need for preserving these sites and structures for posterity, everyone else seems hell-bent on doing away with the “old things.”
The once highly-touted Magnificent Seven on Queen’s Park West has probably become the “ugly four or five” since many of them have been left to ruin. How many times have we heard about the restoration of Whitehall, Mille Fleurs, Stollmeyer’s Castle and even President’s House. Many similar buildings have already been lost, but at least an effort is being made to save the Red House.
The entire country, Roman Catholics moreso, cannot allow this Minor Basilica of the Archdiocese to fall into ruin, or the project to grind to a halt because of lack of money, since the building is recognised as a significant part of our cultural and religious heritage.
If I may be allowed to distort slightly the call of the American president John Kennedy who said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but rather what can you do for your country.” In relation to saving the Cathedral we might say, “Ask not what the cathedral can do for me, but rather what can I do for the cathedral.” The answer resounds immediately—make and live up to your financial pledges to the restoration and support all the fund-raising events.
And it’s not difficult. The people managing the fund has made it so that any individual can walk into any commercial bank and make a direct deposit to the Archbishop’s Appeal Fund. One can also arrange to have a direct deposit made to the fund on a monthly basis. A lot of work has already been done. Work on the north aisle is almost complete (walls 75 per cent); cast iron clerestory windows (90 per cent); parapets and interior columns (75 per cent); a cistern to channel storm water away from the building is being constructed, while termite eradication is ongoing.
With adequate funding and the current pace of work, it is possible to return to worship in that place within three years, according to Archbishop Harris. So let’s get with it and solidly support the Archbishop’s Appeal Fund.
• Vernon Khelawan is the media relations officer of Catholic Media Services Ltd (Camsel), the official communication arm of the Archdiocese of Port-of-Spain. Its offices are at 31 Independence Square. Telephone: 623-7620.