It was 2002, the year of Ronnie McIntosh’s “Biting Insects”. The young Surinamese were dancing in the aisle of the aircraft and singing that popular calypso with much gusto. They were returning home from Trinidad Carnival and seemed to have had a wonderful time. I thought to myself what a great world it would be if all young people were as happy, and my mind turned to the unfortunate youths who were the reason for my visit to Suriname.
I had been invited to address a symposium on juvenile justice at the Palace Hotel in Paramaribo. After the symposium, my host suggested that since I could not immediately return to Trinidad, as their airline did not fly there every day, I should visit the juvenile detention centre.
I was filled with euphoria after attending a sung Latin mass where I had my chance to sing with zest and, in the process, date myself, when my host reminded me of my impending visit to the facility. “I should warn you,” she said, “that one of your countrymen visited the centre and wept.” As I glanced at her, she answered my unspoken question, “Fr Gerry Pantin.” I smiled inwardly as the imp put an uncharitable thought into my mind. That is no yardstick. He comes from not only a praying family but also an emotional one. Soon, I would have to beg the Lord’s forgiveness.
I was totally unprepared for the sight that awaited me. The facility was reminiscent of a dog-catcher’s cart on the way to the pound. As the young, unkempt boys cried out to me, stretching their hands through the bars, unable to budge, so tightly packed in they were, I bit my lips, closed my eyes and motioned to my host to take me away. I felt helpless. I was choked up and unable to speak. I shook my head in disbelief. Now, I understood Fr Pantin’s pain and his compassion for the suffering youths. Father, forgive me.
Recently, while visiting the Eastern Caribbean, I visited youth training centres and was repeatedly told by managers that they followed the Servol model created by Fr Gerry Pantin. These centres were making a positive difference in the lives of Caribbean youths, steering them away from a wrong path.
When Dana Seetahal was killed, I was in the Eastern Caribbean. I met lawyers, magistrates, attorneys general, judges and police prosecutors who were asking me questions I could not answer. I could share in their pain and anger at the death of a cherished colleague but had to bear my country’s shame alone.
It was small comfort to read online regional newspaper editorials and tributes to her from Bar associations. Dana had touched many lives and made a difference in this region. I could not believe that bold, independent woman no longer walked this earth, that she was gone, leaving us with only memories.
Both Dana and Fr Gerry’s deaths were mourned within and beyond their homeland of Trinidad and Tobago because the influence they wielded in life went beyond our shores. We are proud of them as having come from us and for being the best of us, in a land where sometimes all we can see is dishonesty, despair, darkness and death.
But there is always hope and there still abounds in this land of the Trinity so much goodness, so much God-given talent and so much love, if only we would take the trouble to look for these signs of God’s blessings and His presence yet among us.