Conference Coordinator Dies
Fr. Michel de Verteuil, CSSp, 1929-2014
“A Father of the Church in the Caribbean”
Fr. Michel de Verteuil, one of the three founding coordinators of our Conference, died in his sleep at Fatima College, Port of Spain, on Sunday January 9, 2014, Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord. He was 84 years old. For the past few years Fr. Michel has had several health challenges, but up to the time of his death he had continued to celebrate daily Mass, attend his lectio divina sessions, and visited regularly with friends. The day he died he was due to join his ‘Liturgy School’, ‘Lectio’ and ‘Theology Conference’ friends in an “Epiphany celebratory lime” in his honour.
Fr. Michel was born on June 5, 1929 to Max and Denise de Verteuil, at 83 Cipriani Boulevard in Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago. He attended St. Mary’s College Secondary School in his homeland from 1941-1947; from 1949-1956 pursued studies at the Holy Ghost Seminaries in Ireland and the University College, Dublin earning an MA in English and Higher Diploma in Education; and from 1957-1959 he studied theology at the Catholic University of Fribourg, Switzerland graduating with a Licentiate in Sacred Theology. He was ordained a priest in Fribourg on July 19, 1959.
He taught at the Holy Ghost Minor Seminary in Eastern Nigeria (1960-64). On his return to Trinidad he became rector of the Holy Ghost Seminary in Arima (1965-70) and the rector of the Regional Seminary of St. John Vianney and the Uganda Martyrs (1970-78). He was Provincial of the Holy Ghost Fathers (1980-1992); founder and director of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Centre at the UWI Chaplaincy, St. Augustine (1980-2003); and editor of the Catholic News (1992-2002). Fr. Michel was a co-founder of the Trinidad School of Liturgy, the Antilles Catholic Press Association (ACPA) and the Catholic Conference on Theology in the Caribbean Today (1994).
Perhaps his greatest legacy will be his work in the promotion of lectio divina in the Caribbean, in Ireland, Canada, Rome and throughout the world via the internet. He has published several books on lectio divina including : Your Word is a Lamp for My Steps : Lectio Divina (1996); Celebrating Advent: Year A (1998); Let All the Peoples Praise Him: Lectio Divina and the Psalms (1998); Meditating on the Mysteries: The Rosary as Biblical Prayer(1998); Celebrating Advent : Year B (1999); Praying the Gospel of Lent: Year B (1999); Praying the Gospel of Lent: Year C (2000); Eucharist as Word (2001); Celebrating Advent: Year C (2002); Lectio Divina with the Sunday Gospels: The Year of Luke (2004); Lectio Divina with the Sunday Gospels: The Year of Matthew (2005); Lectio Divina with the Sunday Gospels : The Year of Mark (2006).
The thirteenth Conference on Catholic Theology in the Caribbean Today held in Roseau, Commonwealth of Dominica, June 11-15, 2007 was entitled “A Festschrift for Fr. Michel de Verteuil, CSSp.” Although the conference theme was “Being Catholic in the Caribbean Today,” organisers felt the time was right to show appreciation to Fr. Michel for his contribution towards theological reflection in the region. The Idris Hamid Memorial Lecture that year focussed on that contribution. The lecture entitled ” The Catholic Church and the Bible in the Caribbean: The Contribution of Fr. Michel de Verteuil” was a multi-media presentation by a group of lectio practitioners who had all been trained by Fr. Michel. The team comprised Felix Edinborough, Bernadette Salandy, Linda Wyke, Miriam Mannette, Gloria Bertrand and Patrick Anthony. The highlight of the occasion was the presentation to Fr. Michel of a plaque designating him “A Father of the Church in the Caribbean.”
The Funeral of Fr. Michel de Verteuil CSSp was held at the St. Theresa’s R.C. Church, Woodbrook, Port of Spain on Thursday January 9 at 9.30 a.m. His body was interred at the Lapeyrouse Cemetery, Port of Spain in the Spiritan lot.
Fr. Michel, Our Mentor, Brother, Companion and Friend
PABA, Editor, Catholic Chronicle, Saint Lucia
For some of us, Michel was all of that and more. He had nurtured our creative minds, challenged our limiting boundaries as students, and navigated our tormented “amor et ardor” (love/hate) relationship with the Church. Above all, he sparked in our hearts a passion for the Word of God. Michel was a “people person”; he loved people, trusted them and helped those who related with him to see the Jesus in others. As Derek Walcott wrote of his mentor Harold Simmons, “People entered his understanding/like a wayside country church,/ they had built him themselves.” Likewise with Michel.
At another time we shall speak of his monumental contribution to education, lay leadership, priestly formation, journalism, lectio divina, theological reflection in the Caribbean and in the Church that justifiably led his colleagues to designate him in 2007, “A Father of the Church in the Caribbean” . We thank God that he was a companion at our side, special, precious.
“His island forest, open and enclose him
like a rare butterfly between its leaves…”
Derek Walcott, Another Life
20th Anniversary Conference
Trinidad & Tobago, 2014
Theme : “History and Memory”
With an invitation from Archbishop Joseph Harris of Port of Spain and a promise of support, the Conference on Catholic Theology in the Caribbean Today will celebrate its 20th anniversary in Trinidad & Tobago, June 9-13, 2014. This was one of the many decisions taken at the end of the 16th Conference (June 17-21, 2013), just concluded in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
A planning committee comprising Ms. Bernadette Salandy, Mr. Felix Edinborough, Fr. Clyde Harvey, Fr. Martin Sirju and Bro. Paschal Jordam OSB has already been formed and mandated to co-op, wherever necessary, persons with events management and other requisite skills. Under the theme “History and Memory,” the 2014 Conference will seek to critically appraise the challenges, achievements, limitations of the process of theological reflection inaugurated in St. Lucia in 1994.
After a very cordial meeting between Archbishop Harris, Bishop Jason Gordon and the Conference’s coordinating committee to clarify the relationship between the AEC and the Conference, it was agreed that (a) the Conference will accept responsibility for all statements published in its name and (b) the AEC will utilize the expertise and resources of the Conference for research in the preparation of pastorals and other documents. Archbishop Harris has replaced Bishop Gabriel Malzaire as the new AEC liaison with the Conference.
Among the other decisions taken by the 16th Conference to mark the 20th anniversary of its existence is the establishment of a “Founders Lecture” to go along with the ‘Dr. Idris Hamid Memorial Lecture’ and the ‘Cheryl Herrera Memorial Lecture’. The Founders Lecture, to be named after the three founders of the conference, Fr. Michel De Verteuil CSSp, Msgr. Patrick Anthony and Archbishop Joseph Harris CSSp, will provide an ongoing opportunity to commemorate those who have contributed to the conference over the years such as the late Fr. Henry Charles, Sr. Diane Jagdeo OP and the Surinamese lay theologian Peter Sjak-Shie. At this year’s conference during a session called “Remembering Henry”, Fr. Martin Sirju led participants in an appreciation of the life and work of the late Fr. Henry Charles. In this new conference feature “Book-shelf Lime”, Fr. Charles’ book Forgiveness Considered was briefly reviewed while participants shared on how Fr. Charles had impacted their lives.
This year’s conference was held at the RC Pastoral Center, Edinboro, Kingstown, under the theme “Vatican II and the Church in the Caribbean”. There were about 25 participants from the region and the diaspora, among them theologians, clergy, religious, catechists and pastoral workers. For the first time ever, there were three bishops at the conference: Archbishop Joseph Harris CSSp, Bishop Jason Gordon the bishop of Bridgetown and Kingstown, and Bishop Emeritus Malcolm Galt CSSp. From the evaluation at the end of the 16th Conference most participants lauded the board and lodge arrangements but some found the 10 papers and two memorial lectures plus business sessions too demanding. For a list of papers presented check our website : caribbeantheologytoday.net. and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
The Vincentian public responded with great enthusiasm to the two public lectures on Creation Spirituality and the round table on the future of the Church in the Caribbean. Sr. Annette Chow’s lecture on Creation Spirituality drew one of the largest crowds we have ever seen at a Memorial Lecture. The clear articulation of her personal journey towards the integration of faith and science sparked a lively discussion on how to catechise the contemporary youth. The round table format which was being utilized for the first time for the second memorial lecture worked so well that it might become a regular feature at future conferences. Presenters Dr. Miriam Sheridan, Prof. Terrence Julien and Sr. Annette Chow raised the challenges to the Church in the Caribbean today, as they saw them fifty years after Vatican II : the culture of death, violence and corruption, the new media environment, the shortage of clergy and lack of vocations, the hemorrhaging of laity. Suggested solutions from the other presenters, Archbishop Harris and Bishop Gordon, included the formation of pastoral teams to manage parishes, drawing upon the skills, talents and best practices among the laity; and discovering creative ways to impart moral values and habits to children and youths.
To be continued…
by Editorial Committee, Theology Conference
Martin Sirju’s work on “Religious Double Belonging” in Trinidad & Tobago
The recent screening of the documentary, the Madonna Murti, at Fatima College, Port-of-Spain, and the ensuing controversy places into focus the ongoing research of Fr. Martin Sirju in the area of religious double-belonging in Trinidad & Tobago. Fr. Sirju is the parish priest of Siparia where, according to the producers of the documentary,they were able to utilise “narrative, drama, illustrations and song to tell the tale of a statue who offers health, hope, help and happiness to those who come to her most in need of it”. Fr. Sirju is also a founding member of the Conference on Catholic Theology in the Caribbean Today and over the years has consistently presented papers on his research in the area of inter-faith, inter-religious relations and religious double-belonging, particularly as regards Hinduism and Christianity in Trinidad.
At our last conference (St. Vincent and the Grenadines, 2013), he gave a report on recent developments concerning Siparee Mai. The documentary The Madonna Murti, produced by LRS Productions Limited and directed by “Trinidadian – Nigerian” Oyetayo Raymond Ojoade, with script by Sharon Syriac fits into that kind of research into inter-religious relations and religious double belonging.
According to Paul Knitter (Paul Tillich Professor of Theology, World Religions and Culture at Union Theological Seminary, New York)“… the much discussed question of double belonging or multiple religious belongings really is what happens when interreligious dialogue works.” In an interview with Old DOG Documentaries Inc., on their film “Jesus & Buddha: Practicing across tradition” Knitter continues, it is what happens “when you say, ‘I want to study and learn from another religion,’ and go about that effort and it starts working. In other words, in my Christian terminology, when I start finding the presence of this spirit, what I believe is true in other religions, of course it doesn’t remain in my head. It touches my whole being, my heart and my practice. I start adopting that religion to some extent. Adopting that religion, that means entering into the practice of another religion.”
Knitter further elaborates when interviewed by Thomas C. Fox of the National Catholic Reporter (June 23, 2010) on his latest book Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian. “Double belonging” he says, “is being talked about more and more now, both in the theological academy and in the area of Christian spirituality. I think it’s the term that is used when more and more people are finding that they can be genuinely nourished by more than one religious tradition, by more than their home tradition or their native tradition.”
Although it was only at our 12th Conference on Being Church in a Plural Society (Suriname, 2005) that Sirju addressed the topic directly in a paper entitled “Religious Double Belonging among Catholic East Indians in Trinidad,” throughout the years, his work in that area has been tireless. In our Inaugural Conference on Perspectives (St. Lucia, 1994) he had presented on “An Attempt at Indo-Inculturation.” At the 4th Conference on Faces of Jesus in the Caribbean (Grenada, 1997) he presented a paper on “The Hidden Face of Jesus: Christ and Krishna” to which Fr. Michel DeVerteuil, one of the conference founders, responded. Again at the 6th Conference on God in History: The Caribbean Experience (St. Vincent and the Grenadines, 1999) Sirju led a panel discussion on “Changes in the Understanding of the Goddess Kali among Rural Hindus in Trinidad.” At the 7th Conference on Caribbean Personhood (Trinidad & Tobago, 2000) he reported on his research into Hindu burials in a presentation entitled “The Hindu Burial Rites : What can we learn from it as Christians?” Then at the 9th Conference on Caribbean Personhood III: Sexuality (Barbados, 2002) he presented a paper on “The Role of Religion in a Multi-Ethnic Society.”
If the region’s experience in the encounter with other religious traditions is one of the distinctive contributions Caribbean theology can make to theology in the world church today, then Martin Sirju’s contribution is critical to that effort.
Further research on La Divina Pastora can be pursued in Venezuela where at Barquisimeto there is a vibrant cult of La Divina Pastora. The proximity of Venezuela to Trinidad & Tobago would suggest possible linkages between the two traditions. La Divina Pastora is also a well-known Spanish tradition. In Gapan City in Nueva, the Philippines, there is also a popular cult of La Divina Pastora. The uniqueness of the Siparia Mai tradition of Trinidad & Tobago seems to be the element of inter-religious relations as well as the issue of double-belonging.
Rhonda Earle on St. Vincent 2013
The week’s proceedings began with Mass at the RC Cathedral in Kingstown at which the chief celebrant was Bishop Jason Gordon DD. Several Caribbean priests concelebrated at the Mass at which representatives of the St. Vincent Christian Council attended. The Conference was officially opened at the Pastoral Centre by Bishop Gordon in an opening address which set the stage for the historic exploration of the impact of Vatican II on the church in this region. The actual ceremony was chaired by the seemingly indefatigable Msgr. Patrick Anthony (PABA) who set the stage for the conference which was attended by persons from Jamaica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, and Trinidad and Tobago as well as persons from the Caribbean diaspora whose participation in Caribbean church spanned the pre-Vatican and post-Vatican periods.
The Conference was a truly enriching experience for all participants as the Caribbean church reflected on topics as diverse as a reflection on the Antilles Bishops and History after Vatican II by Dr. Anna Kasafi Perkins; Vatican II and the Liturgy by Fr. Michel Francis; Dr. Gerald Boodoo on Vatican II and Catholic Theology in the Caribbean as well as Brother Paschal Jordan’s presentation on Mt. St. Benedict and the Impact of Vatican II in the Caribbean. Two presentations were open to the public: the Idris Hamid Memorial Lecture on “The Way Forward for the Church 50 years after Vatican II” which comprised panelists as diverse as Archbishop Joseph Harris, Bishop Jason Gordon, Professor Terence Julien, Sr. Annette Chow SJC and Dr. Miriam Sheridan; and the Cheryl Herrera Memorial Lecture in which Sr. Annette presented a dynamic power point presentation which asked the question “Creation Spiritualiy: What’s in it for the Caribbean?” The latter turned out to be a true eye opener for all attendees who participated in a lively discussion from the floor. The role of oral literature in moral development was explored by Sr. Rose Leon SJC and PABA himself presented on Death and After-death in Derek Walcott’s poetry. To the final full day the conference remained a lively and thought provoking one with presentations that included one by Fr. Clyde Harvey on “The Ethos and Ethics of Human Sexuality”; an overview of the role of women within the church since Vatican II by Peter Jordens as well as a very lively interactive presentation by Dr. Rose-Ann Walker which explored the way in which several Caribbean poets had presented their own search for identity.
One cannot help but look forward eagerly to feasting at the table with the theologians and non theologians who participate in a typically open and trust-filled atmosphere in this conference on catholic theology. The next conference is scheduled for Trinidad as the Conference marks its 20th year. It is sure to be as stimulating as the St. Vincent Conference. See you there, God willing!
Trudy Eastwood, daughter of Ms. Cheryl Herrera, has written a letter of appreciation to the Conference on behalf of the Herrera family. Read letter.