When he was much younger, Matthew Martinez often went ‘clubbing’ with friends on weekends. Those days are long gone as in a week’s time he will become a Dominican friar.
But don’t drop your drink if you see him – white habit and all – in a noisy bar among young Catholics willing to learn more about the faith in a non-church setting.
Rev Matthew, who was ordained a deacon last year in Ireland, supports the local Spirit and Lime project of Companions of the Transfigured Christ (CTC), which is modelled on the foreign-based Theology on Tap programme, in which young people meet at bars to not only socialise but to listen to a talk on spirituality and faith. Some in the Church have knocked the initiative but not Rev Matthew: “I think that’s a way [to evangelise]. You have an easygoing setting, people come, they take a drink, there is a good talk, there is good basic formation, there is an encounter with each other as young Catholics, and I think at the end of the day it is fantastic.”
He spoke of a tale that the Dominican order was started in a pub. According to www.dominicanscork.ie, “the germ of the idea that led to the Dominican order began in a pub, when the Catalan priest, Dominic, had a conversation with the barman which went on into the early hours of the morning. At the end of this marathon session, the barman was persuaded by the priest, and Dominic had the beginning of the idea of what he would like to do with his life, not frequenting pubs, mind you, but engaging in the whole area of exchange of ideas. You could say that this was the conception of the order that was to became known as the Order of Preachers.”
At least that’s what the website stated. And, it was while conversing over beers that a young Matthew decided to give religious life a try.
Born to Russell and Joanne Martinez, Matthew grew up in West Trinidad, living in Maraval, Glencoe and finally Diego Martin. He has a younger sister, Rebecca.
He attended St Andrew’s Private School, then Eshe’s Learning Centre for treatment of dyslexia. From there it was back to St Andrew’s and then to Queen’s Royal College. After working in his father’s air-conditioning business and teaching at Corpus Christi College, he entered the University of the West Indies, eventually completing a degree in Caribbean History and other studies.
Matthew had felt a calling to priestly life at age18 while at QRC and had done a Life in the Spirit seminar at Living Water Community, where he practically grew up; his parents met in the Community. After UWI, he decided to do a year of missionary work in St Vincent (2005-2006) and asked God for guidance on what to do with his life. Over drinks and in conversation with a Redemptorist seminarian, now known as Fr Peter Hill, Matthew decided to answer the call he heard when he was 18 years old.
After gathering information on the various orders and congregations, he settled on the Dominicans. He had a great example as then Bishop Robert Rivas OP was in charge of the diocese of Kingstown, St Vincent, and Matthew lived at the bishop’s residence during his year on mission. He said even though Bishop Rivas had all the responsibilities of office, he still made time for prayer and seeing to the needs of the people, and maintained his Dominican way of life.
Matthew entered the Dominican seminary in 2007.
What was the reaction of his parents when he told them he wanted to become a priest? “They’ve been very supportive but in a way that it was always my decision. From the very beginning they never pushed me. They always said ‘Well it’s your decision’, but they were excited and very happy. My mother did say when I was baptised she gave me to God, just like when Mary presented Christ in the temple. They never pushed me into or out of the priesthood.”
He said that was the approach parents should adopt if their child was contemplating the priesthood or religious life – being supportive and open.
Remembering the boundaries he and his friends set for themselves, he’s saddened when he sees and hears about young people “getting totally wasted” while partying. Rev Matthew said, “We need to teach our people moderation. We need to bring back virtues – temperance, fortitude, prudence and justice – and apply those to the internet, to the computers, to going out to pubs, to going out partying, to whatever it is, even Carnival.”
He called on Catholics to start a revolution. “We have to infiltrate the society and the culture, and we have to evangelise the culture, and convert the culture. Culture must upbuild the human person. If culture does not upbuild the human person I don’t think it’s culture, I think it’s something else.”
He said there were two extremes with young people: those who had either a great social life but had basic spirituality or a spiritual life that had not matured, or those who lived a pious life but had no social life. Youth for Life, a group he formed with some friends, worked to create a balance between piety and party. They were pro-life and promoted chastity but also went to parties and participated in other recreational activities – but they knew their boundaries.
When he returns from Ireland next year, he hopes to revamp Youth for Life. Rev Matthew explained that the Master of the Dominican order wants new priests to live in community for a year to be better grounded and settled before they are reassigned. He said his time at the seminary in Ireland has been a good experience, allowing him to not only be immersed in another culture but to share Caribbean history, Caribbean praise and worship and a Caribbean style of preaching, which he described as more vocal and dramatic.
Rev Matthew said he attended “course after course after course on child protection” at the seminary and supported the procedures and policies that have been implemented in the wake of the clergy-child sex abuse scandals.
“I think it’s unbelievably horrific what happened to children, and I think the Church needs to do everything it can to counteract child abuse.”
Rev Matthew believes God is still calling young men and women to priestly and religious life. “We need priests. We need to challenge every young man to contemplate religious life. Every young man I see I say ‘Have you thought about the priesthood?’ And then we have to help people with discernment.”
He’s in support of the Youth Commission’s thrust, based on the Aparecida document, of helping young Catholics have an encounter with Christ, forming their faith, then sending them out to evangelise on mission. “Everybody has a vocation wherever they find themselves, and they have to bring their faith wherever they are, and that will help transform the country.”