WHILE some churches seem content to stay behind ornate walls hoping people come to them, St Dominic’s RC Church in Penal has adopted a different strategy. It is moving its services from the pew to the pavement to meet the needs of an ever-changing and diverse population.
The strategy involves transforming part of the church hall into classrooms where conversational English will be taught to the ever-expanding Venezuelan migrant population. It is also to be used for other activities like music and art classes.
Renovation is under way at the side of the hall, which will be transformed into "comfortable spaces" and used as a multi-purpose hall. Migrants, students, parishioners and the community will have access to the facility at Oliviere Drive, off Clarke Road.
Parish priest Fr Robert Christo said the church has always had a missionary spirit. "All the teachers and students from the convent who have the skills to impart knowledge would be the teachers. Some of the migrants would also be trainers. Some migrants are qualified in different fields. We have a qualified musician and artist. So it's skills, learning and academics."
He was referring to the staff and students from Holy Faith Convent, a stone’s throw away. Many people have promised to help, and he encourages them to participate. The classes will be held after school hours. Christo told Newsday that for the past two years members have been going out and inviting people – migrants and locals – to "come and share in the joy" of giving.
"We do missionary work door to door. We try to visit people in need. Initially, we started in Morne Diablo from house to house. Ms Helen Salick heads that section and deacon Daniel George heads Penal. We started the meals on wheels on Sundays, so we collect food from parishioners and well-wishers and distribute them to the people."
George said when the renovations are complete there will be four classrooms with a seating capacity of 40 people in each.
He added, "Some people would always remind us that while we are seeing about the Venezuelans, we have our people to see about. We have not forgotten our own, and we have programmes for them also."
In chatting with the migrants, parishioners found out their spiritual and physical needs. They helped the migrants to register in the amnesty drive earlier this year, and some Masses are held in Spanish.
"We help provide medical service. We invite them to all our functions such as parish day and dinner day. We always try to help them with employment, rent, food, etc."
With an influx of migrants, the priest said "volunteers and sponsorships" are options the church welcomes. He said Trinidadian priest Fr Curtis Poyer, who is based in Mexico, has been helping, as well as Fr Ferdinand Warner, who also speaks Spanish.
Only a few weeks ago, RC Bishop of Carúpano, Venezuela, Jaime José Villarroel Rodríguez visited the migrants at St Dominic’s.
Spokesman for the migrants Cristina John said registration of the students is expected to start in the next few days. The migrants are elated that the children will get an education.
"Already about 45 children for Penal alone are on a list to be registered, and this does not include children from the Penal Rock Road and Morne Diablo areas. Barrackpore is also part of the parish."
Anyone who wants to help can contact the office at 647-8802 on Mondays-Thursdays from 9 am-2.30 pm.