Picture an Island in the sun, where palm trees grow and there are golden beaches and turquoise waters.
But come inland from this tropical paradise to the dust and dirt of a city, where there is noise and squalor, crime, frustration and violence just bubbling away under the surface.
This is Port of Spain, the capital city of the Caribbean island of Trinidad – an Island named by Christopher Columbus in honour of the Holy Trinity.
Largely now thoughts of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have been replaced by a new trinity of poverty, crime and drugs.
There is a novel by the American writer Herman Wouk – “Don’t Stop the Carnival” – in which he describes a fictitious West Indian island as being like “Hell with palm trees”
To many of the inhabitants of Trinidad, particularly the very poor, the exploited, and the victims of crime, that description might just fit.
But every Palm Sunday, into this environment and situation, comes something positive and life-affirming: a procession of witness.
More than 300 people from all denominations of the Church would gather at the Roman Catholic Cathedral one year – at the Anglican the next – and after a brief service of prayer and praise, we’d set off, with a REAL Palm frond in our hand, and to the accompaniment of the Salvation Army brass band playing “Onward Christian Soldiers”, off we’d go “like a mighty army”, walking, almost marching, through the East Dry River of the City, the mid-afternoon sun belting down upon us (in plastic dog-collar and a dark suit not exactly the most comfortable of garb).
On we would go, along the main streets, the mean streets, the miserable and wretched streets, passing the indifferent, the rum-swillers, the junkies, the pool hall patrons, past the tired and worry-etched faces of the downcast, past the lined faces of the young mothers, looking old beyond their years with child-bearing, past the crumbling tenements and the shanties.
“Onward, Christian Soldiers”. Palms waving . Stopping at the Moravian Church, the Baptist, the Presbyterian, the Salvation Army, the Church of Scotland the Anglican and so on – for brief periods of prayer and meditation.
“Onward Christian Soldiers” After three and a half hours, we were tired, hot,sticky, but uplifted. “Like a mighty army”, united and ready to tackle anything the works of darkness could throw against us.
And, you know, we would pick up folk – bystanders – as this procession weaved its way through the City. There is always hope.
As a PS – one year, the beadle at Greyfriars Church of Scotland on Frederick Street – part of the route – forgot that we were coming and had locked the gates of the church. He was somewhere at the back, watching cricket on TV and couldn’t be roused.
Maybe the Sally Army Band should have played a rousing version of “Awake my soul!” to get him up!