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Archbishop: Death penalty is wrong

Published: 
Monday, December 28, 2015
Roman Catholic Archbishop Joseph Everand Harris

His job is not only demanding but quite challenging. After all, he leads 63 parishes in T&T.

Roman Catholic Archbishop Joseph Everand Harris has overcome many trying circumstances since assuming the post four years ago. Most of them have been ill health. But that has not deterred him from carrying out his responsibilities. 

He’s the second Trinidadian to assume the position of archbishop. The first was Anthony Pantin who served from 1968 to 2000. 

“It has been exciting and very tiring. For one reason or another, my health has not the been the best over those four years,” Harris said. 

He joked that before he became archbishop, he was never sick. 

Harris has battled with prostate cancer (which was detected in its early stages), internal bleeding and blood clots in his lungs. 

But as he stood atop the staircase with his towering figure at Archbishop House in Port-of-Spain, Harris looked strong and refined. 

He descended the stairs with such ease. The 73-year-old praised the priests and laity for their overwhelming support. 

“Being archbishop is great. The priests have supported me very much. I don’t have difficulty with most of them. The laity also supports me. But it is still very challenging.”

He said the Catholic following had improved and this was as a result of the (Pope) “Francis effect.”

“There has been a resurgence and that’s because of the man he is,” Harris said. 

Death penalty is wrong 

On resuming the death penalty in T&T, Harris held firmly to his opinion—no. 

“I always tell people that I am totally against the death penalty. I tell people all the time that violence breeds violence,” he said. 

There were many types of violence, he added. He said it was “violent” when a person goes to hospital and cannot get attention or treatment. 

“That is violent, yet we are surprised when people are murdering each other all the time.”

He said it would always be wrong and nobody has shown him that hanging was a deterrent. 

“I really don’t think we should be associated with such barbarity.”

He said this had always been a point of contention between him and governments.

“I have always said no to hanging.”

Harris said he believed the country was already down a slippery slope and called on the Government to reverse it. He said there was plenty to be done and believed the country had the capacity to do it. 

“The onus is on everyone.”

Money and materialism

Disappointed that society was driven by materialism, Harris called for people to rethink their purpose and what it meant to be human. 

Harris said a culture existed that focused only on self—“self-gratification and self-fulfillment.”

“Anytime money becomes a God, you lose your compassion.” 

Saying professionals like doctors, lawyers, engineers were the most sought after careers, Harris having titles behind one’s name was taking over. 

He lamented that in the remote community of Matelot there were no doctors available to treat the sick and elderly. 

“We are a people who love to put titles behind our names, but does it make you a better person?”

“How many lawyers you see helping the poor? The oath they read means nothing for most of them.” 

He said it was impossible for a poor person to hire a lawyer to defend him. 

Money and fame, he said were what people craved. 

“Degrees and titles do not make you, it is much more than that. Ask yourselves what does it mean to be human,” he said. 

Lack of priests

Noting the decrease in the number of priests entering the priesthood, Harris said it was not necessarily a bad thing, since the laity was now more involved in running the church. 

Recalling when he served as rector of the seminary up to 1999, he said there were 28 students from throughout the Caribbean, nine years later, there were five students. 

“That is when we had to close it down. We closed it because we couldn’t keep it open for five people and so we sent our seminarians to the Dominican Republic, which wasn’t a bad thing.”

But Harris said since becoming archbishop, he had noticed that those who’ve entered the priesthood were all “second-career people.”

Unlike himself, who entered when he was 18, he said nowadays people were entering around the ages of 28-30 .

“So it’s later on in life when a lot of them have finished university...they have their careers and then they make an option for priesthood. 

“That means numbers are smaller but you get people who know what they want because they’ve gone out there and studied their work.”

Asked what contributed to the decrease and hesitancy, he said it was cultural and familial. 

He said: “I think it’s a cultural problem. I don’t know if it as much boys are shying away, although that is part, but I think parents have a lot to do with it. 

“There are two things, the culture in which we live is not a culture that values stability. You see it in young people where they move from one job to the next and the next. 

“They’re always searching for greener grass, more money, better pay and better conditions.

“They’re always looking for something else and that is the culture and it is therefore difficult to tell a young man that you are entering a profession where the possibilities of advancement are relatively few...only one person could be bishop,” he laughed. 

“The pay is not that good, the comfort is not something that we have too much of and we live pretty simple lifestyles. Being a priest is not about self at all.”

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