By Joannah Bharose September 20, 2000

Racism not a Christian thing

Fr De Verteuil
Fr De Verteuil

A Catholic priest has sounded a warning to certain groups of people in Trinidad that they should be aware of the dangers of isolation which gives rise to racism and prejudice.

Father Michael De Verteuil, Rector of the Regional Seminary of St John Vianney and Uganda Martyr, pointed to the Syrian Lebanese community. He said while what the Syrian Lebanese people have brought to Trinidad and Tobago was admirable, they should be careful not to cut themselves off from society, giving rise to racial prejudice.

He said: "Some things I admire about a community like that. Their sense of community support, sense of belonging and identity is remarkable." But De Verteuil also remarked that they have to be careful with the dangers of isolation and separation from the general society. He said: "They must be aware that racial prejudice is not present while trying to preserve their traditions and culture.

"They must not do that at the expense of looking down on other races," he said. The 52 year-old priest recognises that the Syrian Lebanese women have made strides in their attempt to be part of society and make valuable contributions. He drew reference to recent charity work by the women and cultural programmes they have hosted in the past.

He said: "I won't question or doubt their motives as they have done very good things." He also admitted that he was hesitant to speak about the Syrian /Lebanese community because he did not know enough about their cultural practices.

Fr De Verteuil said this applied to any race in which members seek to cut themselves off from society at large as a result of trying to preserve the race. He said the Roman Catholic Church does not tolerate any type of prejudice, especially racial. "It is simply not a Christian thing to do."

He said in the perfect Christian life there would be no racism, but the reality is far from the ideal. "God had no favourites and we should not. If he chose the Israelites it is because he could not find a weaker people. They were chosen as servants and not to be arrogant. From time to time the issue of race crops up in the church with congregation members, the Mt St Benedict priest admitted.

He remembers one case that turned out to be a bitter feud which still has not been resolved after many years. "It was an African guy and Indian girl. The parents tried to stop the marriage and they still went ahead and got married. They are happy in the relationship, but her family has stood their ground and will not have anything to do with the couple," he said. The man's family did not have a problem with the union.

De Verteuil firmly believes that the public's general acceptance of mixed marriages is even greater today. "I have seen other attempts to stop relationships in the early stages before the idea of marriage comes up. But once it gets to stage of marriage, families tend to accept it more easily."

He also disclosed that his own brother married an Indian woman and there were never any objections from either family. "My sister-in-law is a much loved member of the family." He applauded the racial tolerance in this country, referring to the horrors of ethnic cleansing in other places like Bosnia and Rwanda.

He genuinely believes that the level of racial tolerance in this country is outstanding. "As Christians we cannot be a part of what is happening in Rwanda and Bosnia and Ireland." "We have to look in our hearts and root out any form of prejudice, we need to rid ourselves of that. There cannot be a division," he said.


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