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Port of Spain, Trinidad
Lay Faithful

How They Do Power Lunches in Trinidad

By Katrina J. Zeno
A lunchtime Charismatic prayer meeting overflows in Port of Spain's central business district.


Our Sunday Visitor -

Hundreds of people are finding the deeper action of the Holy Spirit in an unusual place: a lunch-time Catholic Charismatic prayer meeting in the middle of Port of Spain, Trinidad’s financial district. Group leader Bernadette Patrick grew up Catholic but left the Church for the “more alive” experience of Pentecostal worship. Before long, however, she encountered the Holy Spirit at work in the Catholic Church—and began a prayer meeting among Trinidad’s downtown office workers. Life in the Spirit Seminars, and conversions, abound in this story of modern-day Pentecost.

It’s a few minutes before noon on the twin-island republic of Trinidad and Tobago. The pink poui blossoms leisurely float their petals to the ground, inviting housewives and government workers to tarry in the noonday sun.

But in the heart of Trinidad’s capital, Port of Spain, the workers and housewives aren’t tarrying. In fact, a wave of accountants, bankers, lawyers, secretaries, nurses, homemakers, and retired people descends upon the Central Bank Building. The armed guards nod at the friendly faces and watch the human stream flow upstairs.  Within 10 minutes, the second-floor auditorium is filled with 350 swaying bodies, hands clapping rhythmically to the Caribbean beat, and voices praising the Lord.

"I won’t miss one meeting," says Bernice Jeffers, a retired audit assistant. "Each week, I can’t wait for Tuesday to come."

What Bernice and hundreds of other Trinidadians have discovered is the Towers of Strength prayer meeting. Held every Tuesday at noon in the same building that houses the prime minister’s office, the prayer meeting is bringing a spirit of praise and intercession into the economic hub of Trinidad and Tobago.

"God is reaching His people during lunchtime," says prayer group leader Bernadette Patrick.  "He is doing something new in the Catholic Church in Trinidad."

Eleven years ago, Bernadette wasn’t so sure. Her spiritual journey had taken her away from the Catholic Church and into Pentecostal churches. "I thought the Catholic Church was dead," she says bluntly.

Then in 1994, wanting to avoid the decadence of Carnival (a pre-Lenten pageantry of sensuality and drinking), Bernadette agreed to attend a weekend retreat with her sister’s parish.  When the reality of spending a weekend with "unsaved" Catholics hit her, Bernadette tried to back out, but couldn’t think of an adequate excuse.

While the streets of Port of Spain jammed with sparkling costumes, calypso music, and carefree laughter, Bernadette duked it out with God at a retreat center surrounded by charismatic Catholics. "I never knew Catholics could speak in tongues," Bernadette says. "I said to God, ‘Your Holy Spirit is really here—the same Holy Spirit that’s in the Pentecostal church.’" But two obstacles still blocked Bernadette’s return to the Catholic Church: the Eucharist and the Rosary. 

On Saturday night, Bernadette stood casually at the back of the hall as Eucharistic exposition began. To her untrained eye, the monstrance looked like a circle with a bunch of things sticking out. Suddenly, the young men standing near her fell to the ground. That caught her attention, and as the priest processed toward her with the monstrance, Bernadette sensed a familiar presence. 

"I knew deep within my spirit that Jesus was coming to me," Bernadette says. "I felt the awesome presence of God just as in praise and worship. No one had to say anything to me."

The final hurdle fell Sunday night when the bus home was late. After waiting for four hours, the spiritual director instructed everyone to pray the Rosary. Meanwhile, Bernadette retreated to a corner to sleep. A bit later, she felt someone shake her, and a voice say, "Bernadette, do you want to see the power of the Rosary?"  As the word "yes" formed in her mind, the retreatants finished the last decade of the Rosary and a young man yelled, "The bus is here!"

"At that moment, something exploded inside me," Bernadette says. "I no longer doubted the power of the Rosary. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I had to go back to the Catholic Church."

That month, Bernadette returned to the Catholic Church under the spiritual direction of Father Ian Taylor. Six months later, he gave her a cross to wear, but Bernadette hung it up in her room. The next morning she heard Jesus say, "Wear the cross, my girl." Obediently, Bernadette slipped it on and went to work as a budget analyst at the Ministry of Finance.  There, the cross attracted a co-worker’s attention.  Within minutes, two other co-workers clustered around Bernadette, and the four decided to start a lunchtime prayer meeting in a nearby conference room. The second week, a dozen people showed up; by the fourth week, the room overflowed. Needing a larger meeting space, Bernadette approached senior manager, Merle Franco, to request the twentieth-floor conference room. A rosary graced Merle’s hand.

"God opened the door," Bernadette says. "Merle is very Marian, very Catholic. She’s now a leader in the group."

Soon, even that room was too small. Prompted by Father Taylor, Bernadette moved the prayer meeting across the street to the other twin tower—the Central Bank Building. It was here that audit assistant Bernice Jeffers noticed three priests coming into the bank building at noon.

"It was strange for that many priests to be coming into a financial building at midday," Bernice says. "Then, I vaguely remembered someone saying a prayer meeting had started on the sixteenth floor, but I was on my way to Mass." Her car had different ideas. Bernice pulled out of the parking lot, but instead of going straight to the church, her car turned in the opposite direction and came back to where she started. "I knew I had to go to the prayer meeting," she says.

The prayer meeting whetted Bernice’s appetite for more. "I thought I knew everything about the Holy Spirit," Bernice says, "but Father Taylor made me realize there was so much more."

That "more" included spiritual warfare, the power of intercessory prayer, and laying hands on others for prayer.  It also included early retirement so Bernice could work full-time for the Lord.

"Whenever anyone asks me what I’m doing since I retired, I say, ‘Girl, I’m working for Towers of Strength,’" Bernice says. "I tell them it’s a prayer group, and then I invite them to come."

The power of personal invitation is what draws many people to this ministry, which has exploded from four to almost 400 people in four years. Earle Hosten was working across the street from the Central Bank building when a good friend invited him to the prayer group’s Life in the Spirit Seminar. The first day, 200 people showed up, jamming the elevators and creating a stir. Fuming, the building manager forbid the use of the elevators and switched future meetings to the second-floor auditorium, thus securing an even larger room capacity (400) for the prayer group. When the seminar ended, Earle stayed on and became a member of the core team.

In addition to inviting co-workers, family, and friends to the Tuesday prayer meeting, Earle leads a lunchtime prayer meeting for men on Thursdays. Other outreaches of the prayer group include days of retreat for women, sport and family day, Christmas Mass and dinner, ministering to street people and recovering drug addicts, evangelization, and days of prayer and fasting. "From that one hour a week, a number of ministries have developed," Bernadette Patrick says. "We try to show people the new life they can have in the Spirit and how to enjoy it."

One of the people enjoying this new life is a controller who works in one of the twin towers. "This man was an alcoholic before he started coming to the prayer meeting and attending the Life in the Spirit Seminar," Bernadette says. "People who work with him are amazed because his life has been transformed. Now, he’s a team leader."

For professional people with families, the availability of prayer and Church teaching during the workday provides an unparalleled opportunity. More than 600 people have attended the lunchtime Life in the Spirit Seminar, and a handful of similar prayer meetings have sprouted throughout Port of Spain. "The prayer meeting is what we have for lunch," Bernice Jeffers says. "God calls us to leave everything behind and praise Him, and that’s food in itself."

It’s spiritual food that nourishes over 350 people a week—and it’s changing the way Trinidadians do lunch.


Originally published in Our Sunday Visitor, October 25, 1998. Visit their website at (www.osv.com).


Katrina J. Zeno, a freelance writer and speaker on topics such as the nature of men and women, singles and romance, the culture of life, the new feminism, prayer, and parenting, is also co-foundress of Women of the Third Millennium, an organization that promotes the dignity and vocation of women through one-day retreats.  Her articles and interviews have appeared in numerous periodicals, including Our Sunday Visitor, New Covenant magazine, Catholic Parent, and Franciscan Way, and she has spoken in the U.S., Canada, England, and Trinidad.




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