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Spotlight: Dominica’s Father Elton John Letang’s Journey to Priesthood

By Marie-Therese Junkerre 

Spotlight: Dominica's Father Elton John Letang's Journey to Priesthood

This trendy, dynamic, young-at-heart pastor brings a new dimension of pastoral care to his parishioners.  He is a modern Cleric, who has taken Pope Francis at his word. Pope Francis, who became the Pontiff in 2013, called for a new kind of priest to serve in parishes around the world.  Pope Francis encourages church leaders to put their community first, to avoid clerical bureaucracy and, above all, to evangelise with kindness.  This priest seems to encapsulate this vision

Father Letang’s vision is to go out in his community and get as many of us as possible to fall in love with Jesus.  The way in which Father Letang chooses to pursue his calling is different and it is not unusual to see him in public wearing his jeans or hiking or running in his sports shorts instead of the traditional clerical attire.  He will not be seen as the typical stereotype priest – reserved and removed and mostly presenting himself at the lectern to guide his congregation.

He uses WhatsApp to communicate with his parishioners.  He prays via the telephone and uses Facebook and Zoom to evangelise.

He spoke to us about “the urge” as he called it, to join the Redemptorists a Religious congregation, enter the priesthood and much more.

Father Letang, was raised in a Catholic home and became involved in religious activities at a young age.  He recalls that it all began with his grandmother, a devout Catholic, who made sure that he attended Mass and religious instruction.  Raised in the village of Giraudel, he spoke fondly of the Mother of Perpetual Help Chapel where he attended mass every Sunday.

Reminiscing about his time at the St Mary’s Academy, he spoke of his involvement organising the liturgy for the school Mass, being in the school choir also the regular invitations from Brother  Wakeham, to participate in vocation weekends.  “As a young guy I wanted to party and do all the things that young people did, so I would always say yes but I never turned up”.

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Letang went on to the Teacher’s College and, having obtained his qualification, started at the Convent Preparatory School.

Despite wanting to join the priesthood, praying and talking to friends about it, several years would pass and the idea would remain at the back of his mind until a major event in his life would bring him back to his calling and the “urge” as he called it, that suddenly dominated his mindset.

In 2001, Letang was involved in a major accident, resulting in serious injury to his spine.  He recalls that it was during his period of recovery that he began to feel a real “urge” to join the priesthood.   A further 4 years would elapse before Letang finally entered the pre-seminary in St Croix.

For Letang, his journey to priesthood was a journey of self-discovery which began in earnest in January 2005, when he joined the pre-seminary in St Croix, where the whole process of discernment began.

After obtaining his Master’s Degree in Theology and Ministry (2012), he was transferred to the Redemptorists Community in Trinidad and Tobago and in October that year was ordained a deacon by Archbishop Joseph Harris, bishop of the Republic of Trinidad.

On 6th June 2013, he was ordained to the presbyterate by the Most Reverend Gabriel Malzaire, Bishop of Roseau – 12 years after his first “urge”.

Asked why he chose the Redemptorists Congregation he quipped “It was easy for me to decide.  I chose the Redemptorists because ever since I have known myself going to church they have been the ones who were priests in the Parish of our Lady of Fatima.  In fact, even before Fatima became a Parish it was attached to Our Lady of Fair Haven, Cathedral which was manned by the Redemptorists from Belgium.

The Redemptorists have always been in my Parish and they always made me feel welcome. Their homes were always open.  They were always inviting people to come to see how they work and how they pray. Also, they did a lot for the parishes they served, especially the communities of Giraudel and Eggleston, where I grew up.  They built bus stops and generally did things to mentor young men and sponsor sporting events. I wanted to be like them – always giving back to the community, so I chose the redemptorists.”

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On 1st August 2019 Father Letang was appointed the Parish priest for the Parish of St Ann and St. Paul which covers Canefield, Mahaut, Massacre, Campbell and Warner.

In his first year as Parish priest one of his major challenges was the Covid-19 virus.  Asked about the impact of the pandemic on his Parishioners, Father Letang expressed concerns about the restrictions on his ability to carry out his pastoral duties and outreach work – especially to the elderly, sick and frail.

He explained that several of his parishioners had fallen ill and some were hospitalised during the lockdown but he could not visit them.  He embraced social media and called his parishioners to pray with them over the telephone.

Asked about the impact on mass in his Parish Father Letang stated that because of Covid-19 there are strict protocols so the church can only accommodate 77 persons per mass because of the three feet social distancing.

He has found ways to ensure that all his parishioners can participate in mass.  In addition to two masses on Sundays at 8am and 10am at Canefield,  Mass is now celebrated on Saturday evening at 6pm.

“We now have internet connectivity at Canefield to allow our congregation (those who are still home) to be able to follow Mass online.  This is the “new norm”. Father Letang considers this a blessing because “we have reached migrated parishioners who long to ‘participate’ in the Mass. Dominicans in the diaspora are able to make Mass requests for their love ones as well as donations.”

Father Letang talked a lot about the use of social media to communicate and stay in touch with his parishioners.

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He also talked about some of the outreach work he and various volunteers are doing across his parish.  Letang explained that they identified over 130 people within the various communities.  Individuals donated cash and kind and with the youth and other volunteers he went  to distribute supplies.  Father Letang said he felt a sense of  fulfilment as he saw the expressions of joy on the faces of the beneficiaries and their carers.

Asked about evangelising with the youth in his parish Father Letang stated we recently revamped the youth group have two leaders for guidance and support. They are actively involved  in different social programs. “We have a young adult program – the Young Adult Ministry.  It’s the only one in the Diocese. It’s for young adults looking for some kind of positive connection, support or guidance. The groups generally meet once a month.  Some meetings are held via Zoom since Covid.

Father Letang’s final thoughts:

My message is especially for  young people… You believe that we are different but if you get to know us (me) you will see we’re no different to you.    I have friends from all walks of life – Rastafarians and non-church goers.  I reach out to everyone, especially the youth and young persons, regardless of their religious beliefs.

I breathe, eat and dress just like everyone else. I am approachable and I would like them to know that I am there to help and support them in whatever way I can.

I am always out there. I will go to the movies.  I will go to sporting events.  Jazz and Creole and yes, I will go to the Bar to meet and interact with young people.  Redemptorists have a special relationship with young people.  Come and talk with us – to me.  We are there for you we love them and we want to support them in whatever way that we can.

We cannot give up on our young people.  I will not give up on the youth in my parish – my country

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