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Not even places of worship safe from criminals

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

For most of his life as a priest, Father Clyde Harvey has been dedicated to positive transformation of the lives of people like the three bandits who robbed him at gunpoint at his presbytery in Gonzales, Belmont, on Monday morning. His quest has always been to find answers to the complex social problems of T&T and he has been working tirelessly against crime, poverty, discrimination and other ills.

As outspoken as he is and given his dedication to a range of social and community causes, it is highly likely that Fr Harvey’s assailants know who he is and his work. They tied him up anyway and ransacked the presbytery but managed only to get $1000, a mobile phone and other items, so they threatened to kidnap and even kill him.

The outrage that has been expressed by so many over the incident, with even Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley issuing a statement, is an indicator of just how well loved and respected this man of the cloth is. The anger is not so much because of the crime committed against a priest within the boundaries of a church, but that the bandits targeted this particular priest.

It was also a reminder that not even places of worship are immune from attacks by criminals.

In recent years, churches, temples, mosques and other places of prayer across the country have been burglarised, robbed and vandalised. Murders have been committed literally on the doorsteps of churches.

All these incidents have challenged the feeling of peace and security places of worship are supposed to afford. As a result, many religious groups have curtailed night-time activities, such a midnight mass and it is not unusual to see security personnel deployed at religious events, even in broad daylight.

Last November, a bandit pretending to be a member of the congregation robbed Arouca RC Church parishioners of the collection that had just been taken up. The thief, who had been sitting in the church during the service, grabbed the money and brandished a firearm at an usher who tried to put up a fight before escaping with the evening’s offerings.

What makes Monday’s attack particularly galling is that the criminals aimed their weapons at a down-to-earth man of the cloth who has been serving in this country’s most challenging communities.

Before his current posting in Gonzales and the surrounding working class areas of East Portof- Spain, Fr Harvey worked in Laventille and Morvant where he became closely connected to the people, allowing young men to play football in front of the Laventille Shrine and even providing a performance space for the nearby Desperados steelband.

In the densely populated Maloney housing development in east Trinidad, he played a key role in developing the parish community, expanding what he met as a simple shed where mass was celebrated into a proper church building.

In every part of the country where he has ministered, Fr Harvey has developed close relationships with residents, relating to them with compassion and humility.

It is instructive that when he was awarded the Humming Bird Medal Gold for Religion and Community Service in 2011, rather than adding the letters behind his name, Fr Harvey chose to add to his letterhead, Human Beings Matter.

If there is anyone not familiar with this extraordinary man and his ministry, they can simply listen to the TEDex talk he delivered in Port-of-Spain where he asked his audience: “Who is guilty and responsible for our social problems?”

It is also relatively easy to find out about the two HIV-support organisations he founded, or the work of the Morris Marshall Development Foundation he chairs, as well as Community Intervention for Transformation and Empowerment (CIT+E) which provide educational and personal development opportunities in Laventille and East Port-of- Spain.

Thankfully, the bandits did not end this work or Fr Harvey’s life.

If anything, this unfortunate incident should inspire more people— in particular corporate T&T—to more tangibly support his efforts to transform communities and lives across this country.


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