Tony Vieira's Comments
18 October 2017

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Main Street Church
(Aired 3 October 2005)

    I was hoping that I would never have to do a commentary like this. In fact even as I am writing it I am very uncomfortable doing it, and I delayed until now to do it since I was waiting for good sense to prevail before I did, but it appears that good sense is not prevailing and I am left with no option but to do it.

   The amount of individuals and various organisations who have approached me to bring this matter before the public over the past three months are too numerous to list individually.

   The Vox pop in the Stabroek News on Monday 3rd October 2005 tells the story every single person who was asked the question "should we rebuild the Main Street Church" responded with a resounding "yes" and clearly not every one of these people are even Catholics.

    So the question is why can't we rebuild the Main Street Church? We can't rebuild the Main Street Church because the local Catholic Church administration was criminally negligent in not having this national treasure and landmark insured against fire. In fact there is no credible evidence that there were even a few fire extinguishers in the building at the time of the fire which any right thinking person would do in these valuable irreplaceable wooden buildings especially if you do not carry fire insurance.

   Ladies and gentlemen I am not saying anything that I myself am not doing, my old wooden house at Versailles is insured to the roof against fire but I would never be able to rebuild this treasure so I have backed up the insurance by putting inside my house at least 9 fire extinguishers strategically placed just in case.

   So the question is why was Main Street Church not insured against fire, my information is that this was caused by a combination of falling church attendance and therefore money collection and carelessness and lack of appreciation of the value of the Main Street's Sacred Heart Church as a national landmark by the people who administer the affairs of the Catholic Church in Guyana, a completely unacceptable situation.

    Every situation has a bright side and this one presented the possibility of galvanising the Catholics in the diocese of Guyana to boost its failing church attendance and support, by focusing the local Catholics to a common goal. No right thinking manager would pass up such an opportunity and whilst our new Bishop cannot be blamed for the fact that the church was not insured, since the decisions not to insure it was taken by his processors, he has been given a golden opportunity to resurrect the complacent catholic community in and out of Guyana to come together to do battle for a single cause as happened when Father Hardless, me and numerous other Catholics fought the implementation of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Bill.

   Forbes Burnham single headedly destroyed the Catholic Religion in this country, since by nationalising all the schools he took control of the mechanism of teaching young Catholics about their religion in the Catholic schools, the result is that because of the inability/inexperience/disinterest of parents to educate their children about their religion an entire generation of Catholics grew up without proper preparation for their religion, and if I may be so bold, the same thing may be true about other religions.

   So on behalf of the people who have approached me in this matter and on behalf of the huge opportunity which this tragedy presents to the diocese of Guyana I am saying that not only must the church be rebuilt but the school that accompanied it must also be rebuilt by the Catholic Church. I do not want to hear any further nonsense about building a bazaar with a chapel on that site in Main Street. 

   For those who do not know its background the Main Street Church was built for the Portuguese faction of the then British Guiana, the land was bought for $1000 in 1860 and the building of the Church was estimated to cost $1200 [them was the days my fellow Guyanese] the structure however after numerous modifications/Changes/improvements in design ended up costing a hefty [for that time] $18,000.

   Incredibly the first mass celebrated at this new church was in December 1861 and it was the midnight mass for Christmas. Since the church was built for the local Portuguese numerous practices which were brought from Madeira and Lisbon by the Portuguese such as processions and the Christmas novena became the hallmark of not only Main Street Church but of all catholic churches in Guyana.

   Actually ladies and gentlemen you might be surprised to learn that the famous Main Street Towers were not build when the church was built in 1861 it was added afterwards as part of an on going process of expansion over the next 16 years after 1861, and Main Street Church continued to be the centre of Christmas activities in the colony up to and including the day it was razed to the ground by fire in 2004 since the fire occurred on the 25th December 2004, Christmas day! Not to put too fine a point on this coincidence is inescapable, the first mass was celebrated at midnight mass on for Christmas in December 1861 and the last one was on 25the December 2004 exactly 143 years to the day later.

   The Christmas Fiestas were not only spiritual celebrations M. Noel Menezes tells us that sometimes they became over spirituous. However the poor were always remembered and at the end of celebration there was an entire dinner for the poor and help with food and clothing for needy families. By 1867 the school was started in the bottom flat of the presbytery which for the information of non Catholics is the house the priests lived in. this grammar school expanded over the next hundred years, and the priests moved to the other side of the church where a separate building was built for them. But the school grew with the church and produced many fine scholars, excluding of course John Mair AKA Bill Cotton, just joking Bill [PIP PIP] this continued until Forbes Burnham took it away without compensation.

   In 1872 the mission was consecrated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ and became known as the Sacred Heart Church.

  The Sacred Heart Church was a work of art built and refined over a period of nearly one and a half centuries and I still can't believe that it is gone.

 Even though I lived at Houston at the time and my first wife lived at Providence on the East Bank we asked for and got our wedding ceremony performed at the sacred Heart Church in Main Street in 1970, and the priest who performed the ceremony was my parish Priest from Meadowbank who later became Bishop Benedict Singh. Numerous other Guyanese did the same thing.  

    Some People ask why you want to build back a church when the congregation is so small today, well that is why, large functions, funerals, marriages, midnight mass at Christmas which cannot be conducted at the smaller churches around the country makes it imperative that some other venue other than Brickdam Cathedral be available to the Catholic community for these occasions and that is why it must be rebuilt.

    So for those in authority in the Catholic Church in Guyana today, I am putting you on notice, the church and a catholic school for our children must be rebuilt on this site there can be no negotiation on that.

   To start the ball rolling my family and I pledge one million dollars to make a start on the rebuilding fund so I am putting their money where my mouth is. Sorry boys, but it is a good cause!