‘He bore his Cross’
By JANELLE DE SOUZA Thursday, January 24 2013
ROMAN Catholic Archbishop of Port-of-Spain Joseph Harris yesterday said that Fr Henry Charles, like all Catholics, has his own personal cross to bear. One which threatened to damage his reputation, but one which in the end led to Charles forgiving those around him.
Harris made this point during his Homily at the funeral service for Fr Charles at the Church of The Assumption in Maraval. There was standing room only inside and outside the church which saw dozens of priests walking at the front and back of Fr Henry’s casket, in tribute to the veteran man of the cloth.
Fr Charles died suddenly at the Presbytery of the St Mary’s RC Church, George Cabral Street, St James two Tuesdays ago, shortly before he was to have officiated at a funeral service.
The Archbishop’s statement was in direct reference to allegations of plagiarism levelled against Charles in 2009, arising from two newspaper columns written by the priest. These allegations forced Fr Charles to resign from his post as Chairman of the Integrity Commission.
“Like all persons who seek to build the image of Christ in their lives, Fr Henry had to live the Cross in his own flesh. Lies, half-truths and innuendos were the nails which tore into his flesh... his reputation. Yet like Christ on the Cross, he (Fr Charles) would seek to express his forgiveness to those who had wronged him,” he said.
His Grace described Fr Charles as a good, compassionate and loving man who enjoyed the simple things in life including family, a good lime and cooking. “His coconut sweetbread was the equal of any and better than most. Above all he was a man of compassion, able to suffer with and for those who came to him beaten and broken by the vagaries of life,” Archbishop Harris noted.
He also stated those who knew Charles as a boy attending St Mary’s College, recalled that he was always reading...how his head was always in a book. He said Fr Charles had a brilliant mind and was one of the foremost intellects not only in this country but in the wider Caribbean. In addition, as Rector and lecturer at the Regional Seminary, Fr Charles influenced a whole generation of Caribbean priests, especially by his example.
“We could I suppose, spend a lot more time speaking of Fr Henry’s academic prowess but that, in the end, is not what defined Henry as a person. What defined him, in spite of human weaknesses, was his simple goodness,” said Archbishop Harris.
To the parishioners of St Mary’s in St James, His Grace acknowledged that they had lost a father and a friend, just as the clergy has lost a brother and counsellor. He noted that he had no one to replace Charles as the parish priest for St Mary’s and asked the parishioners to work with the clergy to find a solution to this problem.
“But we are people of hope and we have a God who never leaves his church untended. Where clergy are concerned we are reaching a point of crisis. But crises my dear friends, are moments of great opportunity. We, that is the Church, will have to find creative ways of fulfilling our responsibility,” Harris said.
In addition to parishioners, those attending the funeral service included students from Martin’s Girls’ High School in Belmont, Newtown Boys’ RC and several schools in Mucurapo. There were also many priests from across the Caribbean, including Apostolic Nuncio and papal representative Archbishop Nicola Girasoli.
At the end of the funeral, Fr Charles’ brother - Fr Herbert Charles - thanked those who ensured that the funeral service was conducted with reverence and dignity.
He recalled a conversation with his brother, in which they assured each other that they would not “break down” or have a eulogy at the other’s funeral. Charles’ wishes therefore, were well respected. Following the service, Fr Charles’ mortal remains were interred at the Lapeyrouse Cemetery.