By Dwijendra Rooplall
If you are like me born after the Forbes Burnham era, then you might be just as surprised as I was to know that during those days there was a weekly Christian newspaper named the Catholic Standard that challenged the iron-fisted, dictatorial government of that day, using only what little resources they had and faith.
The driving force behind the Catholic Standard in its fight against freedom from Burnham’s misplaced repressions was a Catholic Priest by the name of Father (Fr.) Andrew Morrison. He was at the helm of the Standard during the 1980s fighting against corruption and freedom of the press that was muffled in his time. So good was his work, that he was awarded the Pedro Joachim Chamorro Award for Freedom of the Press by the Inter-American Press Assoc. (IAPA) for “outstanding journalism”.
Fr. Morrison was born to a Catholic family in Georgetown. He attended St. Stanislaus College and a Jesuit organization. During the mid years of his life, Fr. Morrison joined the Society of Jesus and went to Great Britain where he trained for over nine years. When he returned to Guyana he was appointed as Chaplain to Catholic Youth. He was instrumental in training hundreds of youths in community living and self-discipline in the “Green Light Organization” which he founded.
“In July of 1976, Fr. Morrison was asked to be the editor of the diocesan paper, the Catholic Standard. From being a parochial paper he raised the Catholic Standard to one of national importance. People used to wait eagerly to read the weekend Catholic Standard as Guyanese were starved of truthful news.”
“On July 14, 1979, the photographer of the Catholic Standard, Fr. Bernard Drake was stabbed to death in broad daylight not far from the Brickdam police station. It was known that the actual target of the assassin was not Fr. Drake, but Fr. Morrison himself”
The murder of Fr. Bernard Drake and a year later the elimination of Dr. Walter Rodney made Fr. Morrison more determined than ever to struggle for Democracy, justice and peace in Guyana.
Fr. Campbell Johnston wrote in the foreword of Fr. Morrison’s book ‘Justice’: “As a journalist his duty was not only to record events in factual and unbiased manner but also to investigate them and uncover the veils of secrecy and corruption which were all too often shrouded…All this demanded dedication, courage and occasional subterfuge. That Andrew Morrison rose to the challenge is amply testified by his various international prizes and awards.”
When “democratic freedom was restored in Guyana after the first free and fair elections, Fr. Morrison was awarded the Arrow of Achievement.” He continued his work even after he retired.
It was clearly evident that the Catholic Standard under the helm of Fr. Morrison played an important role in the fight for achieving democracy in Guyana. Many intellectuals who knew of the role that the Catholic Standard played then, wanted to know what has happened to it now. Is it still in existence? Does it still look at the socio-economic and political ills that affect Guyana?
More so against the backdrop, that the democracy it fought so hard to envision has now taken an “illiberal” turn which is manifested in growing afflictions of corruption that is evidenced in this current political configuration.
The Catholic Standard is still in existence and at its helm is Editor Colin Smith who, in an interview with this publication, highlighted that the Standard has become more spiritually-oriented and geared towards its Catholic subscribers.
According to Smith “with the advent of the Stabroek News and more so the Kaieteur News, there was no real need for the Catholic Standard to do what it was doing. They (Stabroek and Kaieteur) did much better; they had a lot more resources, human and financial. The whole scenario changed, the dictatorship under Burnham didn’t exist anymore… the political situation changed completely and there was no need for the standard with its few resources to do what it was doing when these two other papers had come on board.”
“The bishop and the board of directors of the Catholic Standard have decided that there was a need to change focus because our main constituency is Catholics. There is a role for the church to play in the promotion of justice and human rights which was probably a more important role for it to play during the Burnham and early Hoyte days. But our goal, our focus as I said, is Catholics and the Catholic faith, and the board said that we shouldn’t forget this constituency, who perhaps did not agree with what we were doing in the days of Father Morrison, but went along nevertheless,” Smith reflected.
Smith mentioned that the paper is now very religiously focused on evangelization and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s now a one-week twelve-page paper with mainly religious news. There are internet versions as well as hard copies out of which 100 are sent overseas, as well as a couple hundred internet subscribers. The circulation is at about 2000 prints daily.
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