By Paula Cumberbatch
“He touched me, O He touched me, and oh the joy that floods my soul. Something happened and now I know, He touched me and made me whole”. – William J. Gaither
The Oxford Dictionary defines the word touch as ‘coming into contact with or having an effect on’ something or someone. Sometimes this ‘touch’ denotes closeness, trust and intimacy and can extend to a deep, loving relationship. What we celebrate today is the touch of God on four Catholic leaders in ministry and in turn their unique ‘touch’ on the lives of individuals, families and communities throughout the region.
“A great leader is a great follower. My dear, it did not begin with leadership in ministry, it began with service – love of people. One grows into this, so I encourage anyone to accept the opportunities God opens for them.”
DEBORAH DE ROSIA – foundress, Eternal Light Community
After 45 years in ministry, Deborah de Rosia – ‘Sister Debbie’ or ‘Auntie Debbie’ to most – recalls how, at the tender age of ten she responded to God’s call on her life when she became a legionary. At age 16 she received a prophetic word during the baptism of the Holy Spirit through the Catholic Charismatic Renewal and said this deepened her love for Jesus and His word and helped her to grow in confidence daily. In the years that followed, she left her teaching job to pursue full-time ministry and form the Eternal Light Community. Sister Debbie describes her life as one great flow and sees difficulties as “wonderful opportunites for prayer, innovation and dialogue”. Her love for God and His people, combined with the understanding that we all are different but valuable, has translated into the development of social programmes for the poor and destitute as well as the foundation of Goshen Home, Amica House for young girls, Joshua Boys’ Home and Vision of Hope Home in La Brea. As the foundress of the Catholic Bible Institute and Eternal Light Vocational School, she believes that education, supported by counselling are vital combatants to violence in today’s society.
“Be confident in God and in yourself. Give yourself to knowing Him and to that which He has called you, so that you can follow His leadership as you lead others”.
MARGARET-MARY WOODS – co-foundress, Zion RC Community
‘Sister Margaret’ acknowledges that her first encounter with Christ was at her confirmation when the bishop laid hands on her and spoke a prophetic word over her life. From then she said she cultivated the habit of going to God in prayer regularly. It was, however, her mother, along with other leaders in the Church, who would lay hands on her years later for the release of the Holy Spirit. Despite any initial feelings of fear and insecurity, Sister Margaret has pursued her call to ministry without regret. She admits to the usual internal and external challenges associated with building community, but was quick to add that any challenge pales in comparison to the reward of seeing people set free from the power of sin and enter into intimate relationship with Christ. Sister Margaret, together with Mary Baptiste, continues to make prayer, intercession, pastoral care and counselling their main goals in the journey to “build Him a House of Prayer”.
“Just go for it. Just go ahead and say yes. Be a humble servant, committed to prayer and surrendering to God and to love without counting the cost”.
RHONDA MAINGOT – co-foundress/community director, Living Water Community
At age 20, Rhonda was healed of migraine headaches. This, coupled with a subsequent spiritual experience when she heard God call and commission her, encouraged Rhonda to put things in place and leave her job within two to three months to live a life completely in God’s service. Though she admits that many people thought she was crazy, she said yes to God’s call to “light a fire of love” in the heart of His people. In 1975 Rhonda, together with Rose Jackman, founded the Living Water Community (LWC) to tend to the needs of God’s people, particularly the poor and disenfranchised in the society. Thirty five years later their work extends beyond Trinidad and Tobago into Barbados, Grenada and even Mission Island. To truly know what concerns Rhonda, you only have to ask about her thoughts on the current state of Trinidad &Tobago. She laments that domestic violence, abuse and addictions, as well as a loss of the sense of sin are some of the main elements which have brought about the loss of the ‘soul’ of our nation. That said, she believes that the antidote is a belief in a God who is both alive and present and challenges all Catholics to strive to be the presence of Jesus in our daily lives and ministry activities. She is a strong advocate for the use of science and technology and the community’s leadership in media via Trinity Communications Network and the Caribbean School for Catholic Communications stands as testament to an understanding of the importance of the use of a religious imagination in reaching the population.
“But he never gave up because He could look at me and know His plan and purpose for me. He had faith in His own power to bring me someday to a place where I could look at Him and say, “What do you want of me?””
Ursula ‘Auntie Babsie’ Bleasdell – leader, Word of Life Prayer Community
Ursula Bleasdell or “Auntie Babsie” as she is lovingly called, can only be described as a determined, outgoing, strong-willed and exceedingly loving woman, who always had a deep yearning to do God’s will. The biological mother of two daughters, Erica and Paula, she also considered herself to be the spiritual mother and grandmother to hundreds, including Fr Michael Moses (1957-2008) whom she constantly referred to as her “spiritual son”. He joined her household just after his ordination in 1988 and they shared a lifelong friendship until his death. Born in the town of Arima on June 16, 1921 on the feast of Corpus Christi, and raised in a Catholic family in the pre-Vatican II period, Auntie Babsie was taught the power of prayer and had a special love for the Blessed Virgin Mary, who she admits remained with her through the difficulties in her life. After receiving a prophetic word from Fr James Duffy at the Charismatic Renewal in April 1972, she set about forming many prayer groups throughout Trinidad and eventually founded the Word of Life Prayer Community in 1978. In 1990, Babsie Bleasdell became only the second woman – Mother Theresa being the first – to be approved by the Vatican to speak at the International Priests’ Retreat in Rome. It is this which Aunty Babsie considers to be the crowning experience in her life. At 89, she is also the foundress of The House of Grace, co-founder of Goshen Home for young women and the author of ‘Babsie, Go teach my people’, ‘Refresh Your Life in the Spirit’(Celebrate 2000), and ‘Growing in Praise’. The combined hope of these women is that there is more collaborative work among the diocesan ecclesial communities. One leader further emphasises her hope that (1) Catholic education be made available from ABC to PhD and (2) that vocations to the priesthood be made more attractive to young men ready to serve. Undoubtedly, the commitment of these women to the building of ecclesial community will stand not only as a model of service for other lay people, but also as a blueprint for those obedient – and courageous enough – to answer the call to serve.