PROTECT OUR CHILDREN
By JULIEN NEAVES Sunday, December 22 2013
JACOB Monroe, Jabari Her-nandez and Keyana Cumberbatch. Three children, ages one to six, all brutally murdered in three separate incidents that occurred in less than two weeks.
These children, and the 25 others who were murdered for 2013, will be specially remembered as the local Roman Catholic Church celebrates its annual Feast of Holy Innocents and an offering will be collected to help aid the protection of our children. In a media release entitled “Holy Innocents can’t be the same” Archbishop Joseph Harris commented on the spate of children being murdered for this year and called for the Church to aid in the protection of children.
“Coming towards the end of the year, the horrific murders of three children in one week, in a total of 28 so far this year, have left us all stunned, bewildered and even angry,” he said.
He was quoting data obtained from the Crime and Problem Analysis Unit of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service which refer to persons under the age of 18.
“The Church has always, in following its Lord and Master, cared for all our children. We have failed them in the past. Let us seize this opportunity to deepen their care and protection now,” he said.
In the Feast the Catholic Church celebrates the memory of the children of Bethlehem who were put to death by Herod, as found in the gospel of Matthew. Harris noted some members of the Church have questioned how to celebrate in light of the deaths of innocents in this nation. He commented: “Some have asked, ‘how can we celebrate Holy Innocents this year in the same way as previous years, blessing toys and singing Little Drummer Boy’? Not even the most horrible of incidents must allow us to deprive our children of their joys and their blessings. The children of Syria and the Central African Republic must not be deprived of childhood joys, of food and games, even in the most difficult of circumstances. Yet all of us in Trinidad and Tobago must not allow ourselves to forget the children here and elsewhere who are victims, in varying ways, of our adult sins, which Pope Francis refers to as our self-absorption, greed and concupiscence (lust)”.
Harris pointed out that this year the Feasts of Holy Innocents and of the Holy Family fall together in one weekend, Saturday 28 and Sunday 29, December 2013.
“Let us use this opportunity to pray deeply about our children and families in distress and to heighten our awareness of this tragedy unfolding before our eyes for several years now,” he said.
Harris outlined the additions to the celebration that will focus on the nation’s children lost this year to murder.
Firstly on the Feast of Holy Innocents this year, Saturday 28, December 2013, church bells will toll for one minute to remember all the children who have died. It will be a single funeral toll done at one of three times: just before the start of the Holy Innocents morning service in the parish; at 3 pm to link our present tragedy to the moment when the most innocent of us all met his death; or at 6 pm after the Angelus and just before the parish evening Mass.
“Where possible, when children are gathered in church or family at these moments, the children should be told why we are doing this and the names of the victims may be read out,” he said.
Secondly at Masses on Saturday and Sunday, children will be asked to light candles in an appropriate place to remember the ten children under the age of 16 who have been murdered this year. Others may also be invited to light a candle for children who have died tragically on our roads or as the victim of terminal illness, for example paediatric cancer, Harris noted.
Thirdly, both the homily and the prayers of the faithful on this weekend will ensure references to the vulnerability of our children and our responsibility to care for and protect them.
Fourthly, this Christmas at least half of the collection throughout the diocese, normally directed towards the upkeep of the clergy, will be directed towards a programme to “deepen our valuing and protection of our children in our schools and our parishes”.
“The actual project will be decided after studying the recommendations of the recently appointed Children’s Task Force,” he pointed out. And finally Harris noted that a number of other suggestions have come to him which require long-term action.
“We need to begin from a reality check as to how many of the victims and perpetrators are products of our Catholic families and our schools. The image of an accused person wearing a rosary round his neck must disturb any right-thinking Catholic. We must also work more firmly with parents who choose to send their children to Catholic schools. These suggestions will be followed through in consultation with the relevant Church commissions,” he said.
Harris’ comment about an accused person wearing a rosary is likely a reference to Dwayne Lewis, who has been charged with the murder of his six-year-old stepdaughter Keyana Cumberbatch and appeared in Court this week wearing a red rosary.
Keyana went missing on Monday November 25 after she was said to be on her way to her grandmother’s apartment, located just metres away from where she (Keyana) lived in Maloney. The child was being looked after by a male relative prior to her disappearance.
Three days later, her body was found stuffed in a barrel at her home. An autopsy confirmed Keyana died as a result of blunt force trauma to her head and she was raped. Lewis, 28, was charged with her murder. He was sent to St Ann’s Psychiatric Hospital to undergo a 14-day evaluation.
Keyana’s death was the catalyst for the new Child Protection Task Force set up by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar at the start of this month and chaired by Diana Mahabir-Wyatt. The Task Force has been mandated to present its findings to Cabinet in six weeks time. Keyana’s death also sparked renewed calls for the Children’s Authority to become fully operational and for the proclamation of the Children’s Act.
Besides Keyana, one-year-old Jacob Monroe and three-year-old Jabari Hernandez recently lost their lives to violence. On November 19, Jacob was beaten to death and thrown into a cesspit at the family home at Maracas Valley, St Joseph. Monroe’s father Allan Thomas has been charged with his murder.
Jabari of Carmichael Village, Coryal, east Trinidad, died on December 1 at the Sangre Grande District Hospital after he was reportedly seen vomiting at his home. An autopsy revealed he was beaten. Investigations are continuing.