Among the crowds seeking alms during La Divina Pastora celebrations in Siparia yesterday, were a group of children who sat in the heat and dust, eyes downcast to hide their shame, as worshippers walked past them to enter the church.
Unlike in previous years, there were no long lines of people waiting to enter the church. Very few came to distribute alms and most of those who did shared only $1 bills. Only one woman was seen distributing $100 notes. Scores of people with arms outstretched tried to get a hold of the money.
Other worshippers came to share food and drinks.
Harold Kumar, who was standing inside a cordoned area, said: “Don’t be fooled. Some of these people not really poor. They only came here to see what they could get.”
Another man at the front of the open yard chastised the alms givers: “All yuh come here to give $1? What we go do with that?”
The poor came from all parts of the country hoping to get money. Among them was Alicia Williams who sat on a piece of cardboard with her four children.
“Things are really hard for me. I have been coming here for the past 19 years. Whatever I get on Good Friday I am happy and thankful,” she said.
Ken Gransaul, of Main Road, Caparo, said he is struggling to support his three children aged eight, ten and 12. Showing his clenched fingers, two of which were missing, Gransaul said his children were very bright but he cannot afford to pay for their education.
“I cannot work or use my hands. We surviving on disability grant right now,” he said.
Angelie Sookdeo, of Guanapo Road, Arima, said her family has been living at a friend’s home near the dump.
Meanwhile, those who came to pray said sharing alms to the poor is part of their tradition. However, tough economic times meant they had less to give.
Mohanie Roopnarine, who was seen making offerings at the church, said she hoped La Divina Pastora would bless her with a grandchild from her daughter. Roopnarine said she did not know why she had faith in La Divina, except that it is a tradition in her family.
Vilma Sookram, of Icacos, said special prayers for health, happiness and protection for her family.
Outside the church, vendors plied their wares under multi-coloured tents. Suzanne Phillip, who was selling market produce, said sales were slow and some of her patchoi and bhaji had wilted in the sun.
“This is the worst year I’ve seen when it comes to sales. People not spending money and if they do, they watching what they buy,” she said.
Akash Boodram started the day selling his tomatoes $10 per pound but because of slow sales dropped the price to $6.
Barber Sukhu Bridgemohan, who has been coming to cut the hair of babies outside the church for the past 41 years, said the old traditions are dying.
“People are not interested in tradition and religion any more,” he said.
John Ramdeen, a member of the church, agreed that the number of devotees had dwindled compared to previous years but said it was not because the La Divina traditions are dying.
“This will go on for years to come. It will never die,” he said.