Carnival is an integral part of who we are as people of Trinidad and Tobago. In this festival, there is a theatre of our history, our opinions, our identity, our aspirations, our reflections on life as we see it. As Christians within this culture we are called to embrace its beauty and creativity, celebrate it, enhance it with Christian values and bring transformation where needed.
As teachers of the faith it is fundamental that we form people to be inclusive and transformative, rather than self-righteous. While Carnival may be seen as a forum for anti-Christian behaviours, we must not let the negative outweigh the positive element.
The season of Carnival is a wonderful time to explore the spirituality of using our talents. It also provides an opportunity for the teaching of values and virtues. This leads to a question: “Can I practice what I learn at ALL times”?
It helps us to evaluate ourselves in terms of what we truly desire. This leads to a further question: “Do I need to stay away from carnival like events to be holy”? This may be a hard one. An even more challenging question emerges: “How does God call me to live my life here in Trinidad and Tobago among so many cultures?” Is God asking me to stay away from everything that does not fit my way of thinking and believing? Or is He asking me to be open and look for His love and grace manifested in the literature of a people – carnival.
The world itself can be seen as a carnival and as Christians we must be clear about our call in such a world. It is easy to stay away and be holy and pious and remain in the pews of the Church where we are safe. Our Church, through the sacred council of Vatican II and its documents, calls us to be part of the world, embrace it and transform it with the help of our founder, Christ Jesus. Our call to holiness calls us to walk with Christ through our culture, through our Carnival, value it, listen to it with our hearts, for in it is the cry of the people of God.
Even Christ used the norms of His culture to bring new life. It was during the celebration of the Jewish Passover that He instituted the Holy Eucharist. Catholic Identity calls us to help people be proud of their story, their history, their identity. Though that history/story may have painful and sinful memories, transformation occurs in Christ. The Israelites too, had painful and sinful memories but Christ came and brought redemption. We, the people of God, are the new Israel washed and redeemed so we can live abundantly. By helping people to become comfortable with their identity we bring liberation.
As Christians, Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago should be treated with respect. The respect due to a people. We should not be ashamed of our identity and we should be constantly trying to add value to this event. As Catholics we should be encouraged to create calypsos, costumes, characters, stories, etc. In our religion classes we should also try to support this type of creativity so that our T&T identity can be promoted. We should offer guidance to children and make these creative projects ways of practicing what we have been teaching. At the same time we should respect those whose choice it is not to participate.
From Carnival to Lent
As we prepare to enter into the Lenten period it is also important to clarify the teaching on Ash Wednesday. Here in Trinidad and Tobago, many people have a false understanding (learnt through popular culture) that Ash Wednesday has to do with cleaning up all the sins committed over the Carnival season – we do what we want and then we have Ash Wednesday to take all our sins away. We need to separate the two. Carnival is celebrated at other times of the year in some parts of the world and in many parts of the world there is no carnival at all. But the Catholic Church always observes Ash Wednesday – the beginning of the Lenten season. Archbishop Harris’ advice is very pertinent to us as catechists: “Remember that it is gravely sinful to be occasions of sin for others because of our dress, behaviour or abuse of alcohol. Such sins are not wiped away by simply receiving ashes on Ash Wednesday”.
As Lent begins let us try to look within, especially at areas in our lives that make us feel that we are better than others. While we value our goodness, let us seek humble, respectful ways to companion people, especially those who do not share our values. It is important to help people value their life and what God has given them and help them develop their gifts and talents. The opening lines of Lumen Gentium, Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, says, “Christ is the light of humanity…by proclaiming his Gospel to every creature, it may bring to all men that light of Christ which shines out visibly from the Church”. Each of us is an important part of THE CHURCH. We must light people’s lives gently and boldly, always in the spirit of Jesus. During Lent let us find ways of making this journey.
As catechists it is important that we embrace an inclusive spirituality and become comfortable wherever we find ourselves. Our God is everywhere; heaven and earth are full of His glory. Embracing life and culture is an embrace of God. While everything is not of God, when we are not self-righteous, God can bring about transformation through our faithful embrace. – Bernadette Gopaul-Ramkhalawan, VCC/CERO South/Central Archdiocesan Catechetical Office