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Wednesday 17 July 2019
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Celebrating our freedom to worship

The nation today celebrates, with a public holiday, the collective right of the people to freely worship in the religion of their choice, and specifically the struggle and eventual victory of the Spiritual and Shouter Baptist community to secure that right for themselves.

It was in 1996 that the Government granted a public holiday, called Spiritual Baptist/Shouter Liberation Day, in commemoration of the repeal of the prohibition act, which had prevented Spiritual and Shouter Baptists from openly practicing their religion. Trinidad and Tobago remains the only country globally that celebrates a public holiday for those following the Spiritual Baptist faith.

The doors of the Holy Faith Spiritual Baptist Tabernacle in La Horquetta will be opened for the entire day today as the faithful unite for a day of worship.

Other Baptist churches that will be marking this Holiday with prayer include Garazin Shouter and Baptist Church Ltd of Sangre Grande, Baptist Church Centre in Princes Town, Beth’aleel Fundamental Baptist Church in San Fernando, Bon Air Full Gospel Baptist Church in Mausica, Dickson’s Memorial Baptist Church in San Fernando, First Baptist Church in San Fernando, Monte Grande Baptist Church in St Augustine, Mount Hope Spiritual Baptist Church in Port-of-Spain, Mt Pisgah Spiritual Baptist Church in Santa Rosa.

According to author Hazel Ann Gibbs De Peza, who is a practising Shouter Baptist, the Spiritual Baptist Faith is the name given to the Christian religious group emerging among the Africans in the 19th century in Trinidad. In 1917 the group was outlawed by the Shouter Prohibition Ordinance against its mode of worship which was considered “too noisy” and “too African” and therefore uncivilised and unacceptable. It suffered legal persecution and prosecution until the ordinance was repealed in 1951.

“Syncretism and secretism are fundamental features of its growth. Its survival is a tribute to the resilience and faith of its adherents.

The absence of written records of those early years facilitated the perpetuation of misconceptions about the Faith among the citizenry,” she said.

De Peza compiled the book My Faith, which explores the development and the practices of the Spiritual Baptist Faith, its relationship with African religion and with Christianity, and reveals the essential tenets of the much maligned and misunderstood indigenous religious community.However, in Trinidad and Tobago a Good Friday activity which has and continues to gain traction is the practice of the re-enactment of Christ’s journey to Calvary, when characters relive the actual journey complete with whippers , Roman soldiers, Jesus carrying his Cross, His mother Mary and weeping women among others.

The idea of re-enactment was introduced by Anne Shahid, who, working with Parish Priest Fr Gerard Tang Choon and Administrator Brenda Castillo of the St John the Baptist RC Church on St John Road, St Augustine, began the journey with a candle light procession from the Eastern Main Road to Pax Gate (the foot of Mount St Benedict) at which point the Stations with the re-enactment begins and ends at the Monastery church for morning prayers with the Benedictine monks.

Glorious Saturday marks the end of Lent and Holy Mass, which years ago used to be at midnight. Present prevailing circumstances, crime being one of them, have caused most churches to celebrate their Holy Mass earlier in the evening.

During this service there is the blessing of the new fire and the water and in many instances there are baptisms, mostly converts and adults and the return of the Blessed Sacrament to the main tabernacle and once again the church bells are rung to life at the Gloria, with the congregation joyfully reacting to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Happy Easter!

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