Holy man of God

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The Most Reverend Dr Charles Jason Gordon, 58, will be installed as the 11th Archbishop of Port of Spain on December 27. This elevation follows the resignation of his 75-year-old predecessor, Joseph Harris. NASSER KHAN interviewed the Archbishop-elect on his life as a priest, the challenges of the Roman Catholic Church and the country.

At this time of Christmas, what message would you like to give to TT?

Hope springs from the most unlikely places. Who would have looked to Bethlehem for hope? Who would have looked to a baby for hope? Yet that is where God chose to come to us as a baby, vulnerable and helpless. To find God, and the hope God brings, we often need to look in unfamiliar and strange places. This is what Christmas teaches us. This Christmas, let us seek Christ out amongst the vulnerable, those on the fringes – the prisoner, the refugee, the homeless. We may be surprised at the encounter we are invited to as we meet the prince of peace.

Tell us about your inspiration (who and what) to embrace your vocation. When did you have your calling?

I first experienced a call while at Fatima College. I was in form five it was just after the morning mass. And I heard this question: “What if I asked you to become a priest?” It was as if someone sucked the air out of the room. I was transfixed and could not get the question out of my mind. Fifteen minutes later I had an answer and was absolutely sure. I was dyslexic and so I could not read in public. Studying was very difficult and priesthood required many years of study. I had a girlfriend and could not see how God could ask me not to have her. I wanted to be married and have children. I was not a “priest type” of person. My conclusion was God could not be asking me to be a priest. Many years later the call re-emerged and this time I could not get it out of my mind. I was running my own business and had a girlfriend and after several months of struggle I eventually realised God was asking me to give my whole life, and I found the courage, and said “yes” to God.

At the time of my call I was in Living Water Community and was more and more involved in the life and mission of the community, and so the two roads were business and marriage on one side and community and priesthood on the other side. I took the one less travelled by many and that made all the difference.

Tell us a bit of your early years (where you were born and grew up; family life)

I was born at 41 Fitt Street, Woodbrook, Port of Spain, where my father was also born. I grew up there except for short stints in Arima and St James. I lived in an extended family with dad and mum, my sister, grandmother and a cousin from Tobago. Every school-day I had lunch by my other grandmother. So I was surrounded by this extended network of family. Dad always had a boat of one kind or another, so we were often on the sea, outdoors and down the islands. It was both our recreation and our family time. Life was always full and adventure was always just around the corner. Dad died when I was 18. This changed everything. My cousin Pauline’s parents moved from Tobago to Trinidad, and she moved in with them. My sister went to university in Canada. These were both scheduled before dad’s death. But it was now just mum, and me finishing form six at Fatima College. This time raised big questions about the meaning of life and my place in the world. It was a difficult time, but in hindsight a fruitful one.

How would you describe yourself?

I am an informal, friendly person who loves the outdoors and adventures. I am passionate about God and seek to surrender to God’s will in big and small things alike. If I am convinced it is God asking, then I am willing to go the whole journey. Some think this is stubborn, but for me it is obedience and desire to live by a higher calling even when that puts my life in physical danger.

What are the biggest needs/challenges/priorities at the church and how can everyone help?

The challenge facing the church today is to facilitate people living discipleship in a deeper way; where the Gospel and the teaching of the church become the foundation of decisions small and big; where missionary discipleship is the norm; and where every person is consistently discerning their vocation and living their life intentionally as a disciple of Christ.

When this happens, transformation of church and society begins to unfold. Disciples begin to bring the message of Christ to every form of human endeavour and then the power of the Gospel to transform society begins to be seen and experienced by all.

Nothing short of a conversion of heart will allow us to adequately face the challenges of the day. To find solutions to crime, the drug trade, the high murder rate, corruption, the economy and hopelessness that seems rampant in society, will require us changing our hearts, our values and our lifestyles.

We have a long and difficult road ahead. It will require all of us becoming more caring for the vulnerable in society.

When I saw how Trinidad mobilised for Dominica, I was inspired. The level of care and generosity was overwhelming. This is the spirit that we now need to live with as the new normal. A selfless giving of ourselves to those most in need.

What daily motto/credo do you live by, and, in a few words, your recipe for living?

Bring good news to the poor. Surrender to God in all things— Totally Yours — my episcopal motto.

Something about you that people would be surprised to know?

Last year I walked the Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrimage of 780 km that took 31 days. It was the most gruelling physical and spiritual odyssey that I ever undertook. You can find my reflections on the Kindle store, titled Encounters of Grace.

That is what it was. Experiencing God in small and big things every day. I also kayak regularly.

If you had to solve the ills that prevail in TT, what would you do?

I would work tirelessly to transform the church into a community of missionary disciples.

What advice would you give to a young person who is contemplating a vocation such as yours?

There is a simple prayer that I recommend you to say – Bend my heart to your will, oh Lord. Say this and if you really believe God is calling and asking you to give yourself as a priest, nun or lay consecrated person, go and speak to someone you trust about this and begin making a journey of discernment. Contact Generation S and ask when they have their next meeting, or contact me.

What goals and aspirations do you still have?

To become a holy man of God – this is my deepest aspiration. I know nothing short of this will be sufficient to lead the church of Trinidad at this time.

What advice would you give to the leaders of our country?

We are an incredible vibrant and talented people with more creativity and resilience than we give ourselves credit for. Diversity has been…a stumbling-block as it descends to racism. It is really one of our greatest assets if we could learn to build upon it and recognise that diversity is the reason why we are both creative and resilient. We need to see and work towards a Trinidad and Tobago as a space where diversity is celebrated, on the streets, in our places of worship, in our villages and our homes.

For this to happen, politics, at the national and party level, needs to evolve towards an open discourse of the best ideas for the society we want to become. The best paths to get us there: it needs to engage people at every level in the discourse and thus create a mature polis who will use their democratic right responsibly, voting for the best option for the country regardless of tribe, race, creed or class.

For TT to be truly a harmonious nation there must be inter-religious deliberations…how do you plan to achieve this?

Archbishop (Anthony) Pantin gave us a great example of inter-religious dialogue. I intend to assess where the dialogue is at the present time and see how we can contribute to deepening the dialogue and ensuring all people of faith work to get us to shape a God-fearing nation.

Describe yourself in two words, one beginning with J, the other with G (your initials).

Joyously godly.

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