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PRIEST DIES AT FUNERAL

By Nalinee Seelal and Alexander Bruzual Wednesday, January 16 2013

click on pic to zoom in

Father Henry Charles lay dead in his study even as mourners waited for him to begin the funeral service for their loved one at St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, St James, yesterday.

The priest, who briefly served as chairman of the Integrity Commission in 2009, suffered a massive heart attack at about 10.30 am, during the same time he was due to officiate at the funeral.

His sudden death yesterday shocked parishioners and the national Catholic community, even across the Caribbean.

“I feel very sad, it is a surprise to all of us,” Archbishop of Port-of-Spain Joseph Harris said of Charles’ passing.

Harris last saw Charles on Monday night and said although Charles did not appear to be ill he seemed to be a bit tired. Charles, he said, had a heart bypass 13 years ago.

A statement from the Archdiocese last evening confirmed Charles died from a heart attack.

Reports are that Charles, who turned 69 a week ago on January 9, was to officiate at a funeral yesterday morning, but when the time came for the service to begin and there was no sign of the priest, an employee of the church went to his study to find out what was causing his delay.

Charles was found in a sitting position on the floor with his head resting against a bookshelf.

The employee checked Charles for a pulse and when he did not get any, he alerted other members of the church who in turn called the St James police and Harris.

The discovery of Charles’ body, caused quite a stir among mourners who had gathered for the funeral, but another priest was called out to officiate at the service even as the police and District Medical Officer Dr Pounder arrived at the church.

After an examination, Pounder ordered that Charles’ body be taken to a funeral home.

Charles’ brother, Herbert, also a priest, arrived at St Mary’s after being informed of the death.

Herbert got the call at St Patrick’s RC Church, Maraval Road, Port-of-Spain, where he is the parish priest.

After viewing his brother’s body, Herbert told Neswday he was in a state of shock.

At the time, Herbert had not yet contacted his sister in London and was unsure about how to break the news to her.

Herbert said he needed time to accept his brother’s death, but said masses were scheduled for last evening at St Mary’s and St Patrick’s churches.

Parishioners of St Mary’s, where Charles was parish priest for the past four years, gathered in groups, fondly recalling memories they shared with him.

They described Charles as a “father to the community”, adding he was a priest “for all times, always engaging, never turning away anyone in distress. He was caring, loving and giving.”

Harris said he had known Charles since he was a student of St Mary’s College.

“He was one of our most brilliant priests, an Island Schol winner, a good preacher, who got on well with his congregation and he will be sadly missed,” the Archbishop said.

Charles was a qualified lawyer and had a doctorate in ethics.

In its statement, the Archdiocese described Charles as “one of the finest minds in the Caribbean Church”.

“He had a unique gift for friendship and used his many talents to explore critically many aspects of life which made his homilies and lectures life-giving experiences for those who listened,” the Archdiocese said.

Funeral arrangements are expected to be announced today.

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