The colourful pictures featured in glossy magazines and travel brochures can be misleading, as Trinidad and Tobago is not the idyllic scene that they illustrate. In reality, the south-east Caribbean island state is in an alarming condition as it nears the fiftieth anniversary of its independence on 31 August 2012. Economic stagnation, extreme social inequality and excessive levels of crime and corruption are part of everyday life.
Other problems include the tension that exists between the similar-sized groups of people from Indian and African descent at certain levels in Trinidad and Tobago, as well as the growing influence held by external stakeholders.
“Yes, it’s true that there’s growing uncertainty and an increasing crime rate,” confirmed Fr Robert Llanos, Vicar General for the Archdiocese of Port of Spain during a visit to the international Catholic charity “Aid to the Church in Need”.
The 54-year-old Catholic priest believes that social inequality is the main cause of the area's plight, as well as a society that is constantly evolving and becoming increasingly individualistic and materialistic. Improving educational facilities and curricula could offer a solution to this. “A lot more needs to be done for education. It’s also important to continue to enhance the skills of teachers,” says the Vicar General.
Despite the fact that the public education system has been reformed in the past, it has failed to satisfy the needs of many youth and young adults. Fr Robert claims that " the Primary and Secondary schools which are run by the Denominational Boards (e.g. Catholic, Anglican, Muslim, Hindu, Presbyterian etc.) are among the best in the country. The Catholic Schools number 119 Primary and 12 Secondary".
There, as in nearly all schools led by Denominational Boards, pupils perform better than in the state institutions, according to the Vicar General. Around 56 per cent of the 1.3 million residents of Trinidad and Tobago are Christians, 26 per cent of which are of Catholic faith. Approximately 24 per cent are Hindus, while 6 per cent are Muslims. Under British rule and right up until the early 20th century, more than one hundred thousand workers were recruited from India, bringing their cultural influences and their religion with them.
In a political sense, Trinidad and Tobago has been governed for decades by two parties, namely the People’s National Movement (PNM) and the United National Congress (UNC). The island state is currently ruled by a coalition of smaller parties led by the UNC.
However, the Vicar General for Port of Spain does not expect politicians to launch any significant educational initiatives any time soon. As he points out, the economic situation is difficult. The United Nations and the World Bank have imposed conditions on international financial assistance. 50 years after it was granted its independence, the state now faces additional dependences. External economic pressures are mounting.
The Vicar General explains; “Financial aid, for instance, is granted on the condition that a country implements population control measures which invariably means legalising abortion and same-sex marriage.” Only several months ago, a gender paper to this effect that was drafted by a government ministry for Parliament was rejected following protests from Christians, Hindus and Muslims.
The Vicar General sees further problems. “The environment in Trinidad and Tobago has become more materialistic. US media has a great influence here. They set the trends.” All religious communities have noticed this, including the Catholic Church. The number of priestly vocations has been on the decline for years. 51 per cent of the pastors from the Archdiocese of Port of Spain are more than 60 years old.
According to the Vicar General, there are currently only four young men preparing to be ordained as Priests. The Archdiocese has reacted to this trend by enhancing family and youth pastoral care and pursuing The New Evangelisation. Last year, “Aid to the Church in Need” donated a total of 20,000 dollars to support media projects aimed at promoting The New Evangelisation.
As Fr Robert puts it: “We want to regenerate the Catholic culture and we’re ready to fight for our own ethical and moral identity. This does not meet with the approval of everyone; politicians are not always well disposed to the Church’s causes.”
Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
On Line donations can be made at www.aidtochurch.org