After years of State persecution, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley says the Spiritual Baptist community will cement their place in society with lands that will be allocated for the first cathedral for the faith.
In fact, dozens of applications by the various faiths for State lands and government assistance will be granted before the end of 2019 as Rowley said these institutions are responsible for holding society together.
He was speaking at the People’s National Movement’s Spiritual Baptist Day celebrations at the Sixth Company Recreation Ground in Moruga on Saturday.
And though he declared that it was a party event, he said it was also religious one. It featured the candles, bells, intricate headwear, African drums and the mournful songs that were evocative of the Afro-Christian faith.
As he addressed those gathered for the celebration, he reflected on the era of the Shouter Prohibition Ordinance of 1917 that deprived the community of the freedom to practice their faith.
After suffering for 34 years with the “draconian” law, he said lands were promised. However, that promise was never fulfilled while other organisations got lands. This, he said, added to divisions in society.
“The significance of a sacred cathedral, which was an expectation of 1985, should be an ambition for those of us in authority in the church and the government, and the population at this point in time. And maybe we can all console ourselves by saying that nothing happens before its time,” Rowley said.
He recalled that the faith pleaded for a national memorial ground and recognised Baptist cemetery. As Prime Minister, he said he took responsibility for ecclesiastic matters and while little mention was made of it publicly, he has been dealing with the issues that have been there for a while.
He said the State’s responsibility to the Baptist community has been attracting his attention for some time and through working with the Minister of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries, Clarence Rambharat, a parcel land in Central Trinidad has been identified and the Government will soon announce that it will be available for the building of the cathedral.
He said just like the countries requesting reparation from Europe for slavery, he asked citizens to reflect on how the Baptist community felt through the repression of the colonial government.
While there were many requests for State lands for religious reasons, he said all cannot be granted as some people use it for profit. He said that while the Government will ensure that all legitimate faith receive government’s help, he warned that it was not a “free for all” and only those requests currently before the ministry will be considered. He said the Government has to ensure that the lands will be used for its intended purpose, as places of worship, education, community services, emergency shelters, soup kitchens, schools and homework centres.
He said that there have been administrative and bureaucratic challenges, but the Government is about to confirm a number of these applications.
With respect to the Archdiocese of Port-of-Spain, he said there are 25 files, which includes the relocation of St Benedict’s College, La Romaine. He said that Cabinet has agreed on the new site and discussion are being held with the Archdiocese.
The Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha has 13 files, which included long-standing issues for schools and temples. He said other request includes a Muslim cemetery for Princes Town, the Methodist Church in Maloney, the Pentecostals in Rio Claro and repairs to the Montrose Vedic Primary School.
New initiative for first-time offenders
The Prime Minister also announced a new initiative for churches to partner with the Government to reform first-time offenders rather than having them serve a prison sentence.
He said the Government is willing to allocate State lands for this purpose, but requires good standing citizens to help.
“We are also talking with the church to create in this country, something new where the outreach of the church can help the State deal with its responsibility for responding to criminality among young people. We are talking here about the creation, somewhere in Trinidad and Tobago, most likely in Trinidad, a place for a first (time) offenders institute where if a young person runs afoul of the law, on that first occasion, that this institute can take them and guide them back rather than them going to prison. Because we know that the prison breeds more prisoners.
“The Government is going through the appropriate arrangement with the relevant ecclesiastical body or bodies to create the institute or its semblance so that the Judiciary and others, including parents, can find programmes in that place, which is not a prison, where young offenders could be put back on a pathway of which we can all be proud. And if that may involve some State lands and out of it may come some citizens who can rise to the expectation, whether it is in farming, in medicine, in teaching or simply being a responsible citizen of which we will have no fear.”