Address at the Ecumenical Service on the 38th Anniversary of Independence of The Commonwealth of The Bahamas
Fort Charlotte, Nassau, Bahamas
July 6th, 2011
Honored Guests, Visitors, Friends, Fellow Bahamians:
Independence Day in The Bahamas is always a time of celebration. It is often a time of junkanoo rushouts, music concerts, beach outings, eating and perhaps too much drinking. Fortunately, we have had the wisdom to set aside time for religious observance and thanksgiving. Independence should also be a time, individually and nationally, for deep reflection on our reason for being and on our current realities and responsibilities, if we are to achieve our purpose and potential.
We Bahamians are truly blessed to be observing the 38 th anniversary of our country’s independence, and even with our present challenges, to be doing so essentially in peace. Our theme –“United in Love and Service” – is a highly appropriate one. It is one of the key elements of our National Pledge of Allegiance. It is also indicative of what I will call a moral vision. It should be noted that a moral vision is the foundation of peace and freedom, which persons of goodwill must ardently seek in this our homeland.
On this occasion, we should be celebrating freedom. Freedom, after all, lies at the very heart of independence. All Bahamians, each according to his or her conscience, should spend at least a moment in thanksgiving. For, as regards freedom, the Lord has blessed us abundantly. No hint of bias or ingratitude should spoil our acknowledgement of this grace. If there is any time we should stand united as a nation, it is in celebrating our independence.
Lest we forget the Lord’s precious gifts to us as a people, I would like to reflect briefly on freedom—what freedom brings to us as a people and what freedom is coming to mean in this country more and more each day. Let us ponder what remains for us to do as a free people who desire to remain free. It is urgent that we recognize and do all we can to ensure the continuation and increase of what our northward neighbors term “the blessings of liberty.”
We have much to be proud of as a nation. The Bahamas is among the few countries, which have achieved national sovereignty without bloodshed or widespread civil disorder. This seems to indicate that a moral vision, indeed, a civic consensus was widely, if not unanimously shared in The Bahamas in the years leading to the remarkable achievement of 1973.
The sovereignty achieved in that pivotal year was dense with meaning. We secured the right to determine how we would govern ourselves and the responsibility for establishing our national goals. By our constitution, we made a solemn commitment to cherish and to protect the freedoms we would hold dear. As a nation, we can be proud that we have preserved the essentials of these rights for almost four decades now.
We Bahamians have been blessed with the right to and the freedom of a homeland. This is something that millions of persons displaced by war, ethnic conflict and the ravages of natural disaster around the world would sacrifice much to have. Life can be challenging and even perilous for those who are forced to flee to another country. Such displaced persons are often unwanted guests upon whom citizens tend to heap blame when things go wrong.
We have moved forward through thirty-eight years without any significant curtailment of basic civil liberties. Enshrined in the Constitution of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas is what ought to be considered our most precious freedoms—freedom of conscience and the right to assemble for worship. We Bahamians enjoy the right of free speech. We enjoy the right to associate and to form common interest groups with whomever we wish. We are free to disseminate our ideas, opinions and information for public consumption. We are essentially free from tyranny of any sort.
How precious is the liberty of the ballot! How precious the right to vote, to choose whom we will to administer our national affairs and, indeed, to govern us. Moreover, our electoral process enjoys the protection of the law. These are excellent reasons to participate in elections with appreciation, with responsibility and with pride.
It is especially significant that, representing different creeds and faiths, we can still gather in an ecumenical service. Even more remarkable, this gathering is an important element of our civic independence celebrations. We should never take these freedoms for granted.
We easily enjoy so much that others have given their lives to obtain. On this occasion, it is also necessary to ask whether we are losing the moral vision that is so essential to the perseveration of peace and freedom.
It is time to confront an uncomfortable truth. Today, lawlessness seems fashionable in The Bahamas in ways small and great. In using our roads, many among us flaunt every traffic law and every code of civility. The red light now appears only a suggestion and a suggestion that many ignore without the slightest twinge of conscience. For the rest of us, the green light has become the new caution, advising that we proceed at our own risk. But our traffic woes are merely symbolic of deeper ills.
Every day we mark new departures from self-control and public order. It seems that we are losing the quality of character to entertain rational discussion or simply to walk away when trouble threatens. It is no news that more and more Bahamians are using weapons, such as knives and guns, as instruments of conflict resolution. Increasingly and distressingly, this is even the case among schoolchildren. Is there any surprise that, seven months into the year, our murder count has already exceeded the number for the same period last year?
Yet we Bahamians pride ourselves on being an enlightened and progressive society formed by a friendly, peace-loving and God-fearing people. It used to be abundantly so. Today, some elements of this laudable character remain with us, held fast by a declining number of extraordinary Bahamians in all social strata.
Still, we are losing ground on freedom, losing our grip on peace and safety. I believe this dangerous downward spiral can be arrested, but solutions can only begin when we open the window to the cold, bracing, yet refreshing wind of truth. Present societal conditions may have much to do with the way we have pursued development in our country. We appear to have forgotten that the human person is both material and spiritual. If we nurture a single aspect only, we do so to our detriment.
In his 1967 encyclical letter “On the Development of Peoples,” ( Populorum Progressio) Pope Paul VI sheds light on the problem by focusing on what he terms “putting development in proper perspective.” He said:
“[Our] personal and collective fulfillment could be jeopardized if the proper scale of values were not maintained. The pursuit of life’s necessities is quite legitimate…But the acquisition of worldly goods can lead [us] to greed, to the unrelenting desire for more, to the pursuit of greater personal power. Rich and poor alike—be they individuals, families or nations—can fall prey to avarice and soul-stifling materialism.
Neither individuals, nor nations should regard the possession of more and more goods as the ultimate objective. Every kind of progress is a two-edged sword. It is necessary if [we are] to grow as human being[s] yet it can enslave [us] if [we] come to regard it as the supreme good and cannot look beyond it. When this happens [we] harden [our] hearts, shut out others from [our] minds and gather together solely for reasons of self-interest rather than out of friendship; dissension and disunity follow soon after.”
Undoubtedly, building a strong economy is an absolute necessity. If, however, our only focus is a continuing emphasis on the economy with the marginalization of every other developmental stream, our work is dangerously incomplete. We must all engage in that exercise of personal and social renewal which brings to the fore the development of the intellect and the enhancement of culture, values and civic responsibility.
A well-known economist commented after the financial crash of two and a half year ago: “…What collapsed on September 15, 2008, was not just a bank or a financial system. What fell apart that day was an entire political philosophy and economic system, a way of thinking and living in the world.” It was a way of thinking and living that offered much good, but, in many profound ways proved destructive to life itself.
We are all responsible to a lesser or greater degree for this growing disintegration. In our getting, we have lost sight of the real reason for economies and societies—namely, to manage the material that is necessary to our living more fully and achieving our highest selves. In our increasing materialism, we have lost sight of the human person and the common good.
As Pope John Paul II indicated in his encyclical “The Gospel of Life” ( Evangelium Vitae)—we are experiencing the leading edge of something profound and insidious. It is a view of the world that will lead us to forsake our ideals of human dignity and equality and “revert to a state of barbarism.”
“If we are to create a flourishing civic realm, there must also be a moral vision of what society is for. The Big Society must then contain a moral vision as well as a social and economic one. The absence of a moral social vision has been exposed in the recent economic crisis… The economy should serve society, yet so much of what has happened in these years has shown us that the reverse has been the case…[But] wealth creation alone is not sufficient.”
Centering our planning and building on human life and dignity is not an option. It is not an escapist philosophy. It is a moral imperative and it takes courage to put such thinking into action and to keep it that way.
Freedom cannot survive without a sense of and dedication to community. Nor does development make sense if its product is not an ordered and peaceful society that contributes to the authentic development of the whole person. Without this, society will self-destruct. Surely we can see that increasing disaffection, despair and violence are eroding the fibers of our national fabric. Surely, this must push us to find or rediscover a moral vision.
And surely, all men and women of goodwill must desire to become a part of the process. It is vital to recognize that freedom, as the world knows it, is neither free nor a sure thing. Like a fire, freedom needs to be guarded, constantly watched and fed or all we hold dear as rational beings will surely die.
There are many who would like to contribute to the creation of a great society, but have no idea how to do so practically—what actions to take in practical everyday terms that will lead to life rather than to suffering and death. John Paul II has thrown light on the path:
“In the end, facts and arguments alone will not save us from a culture of death—though God knows we need those as well. What will save us is love—a love that is our dim reflection of the infinite love that brought us all into being. As we step forward, with some trepidation, into a new Millennium, our recognition of the divine may be the only force strong enough to rescue the very idea of human worth and human rights. We need nothing less than a Gospel of life.”
The Gospel of Matthew confirms this.
“When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a scholar of the law, tested him by asking, ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.’”
What then, in practical terms, should be the hallmarks of love and the person-centered perspective? What should be the stance of the good citizen, the person who is attuned to the personal and societal development at the highest levels? What should be the characteristics of those who claim allegiance to Christ or who truly believe in “unity in love and service?”
Let us propose seven building blocks to a moral vision that upholds life and human dignity as a first principle.
- Life and Dignity of the Human Person
Human life is sacred and the dignity of the human person is fundamental to any adequate vision of society.
- Call to Family, Community and Participation
The person is not only sacred but also social. How we organize our society—in economics and politics, in law and policy—directly affects human dignity and the capacity of individuals to grow in community. Marriage and family are the central social institutions that must be supported and strengthened, not undermined. People have a right and a duty to participate in society, seeking together the common good and well-being of all, especially the most vulnerable.
- Rights and Responsibilities
Human dignity can be protected and a healthy community can be achieved only if human rights are protected and corresponding responsibilities are met. Therefore, every person has a fundamental right to life and a right to those things required for human decency. Corresponding to these rights are duties and responsibilities—to one another, to our families and to our Bahamian community as a whole.
- Option for the Most Vulnerable
A basic moral test is how the most vulnerable members of our society are faring. In a society marred by divisions between rich and poor, our planning and practice would do well to draw on the gospel story of the last judgment which instructs us to put those most in need first.
- The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers
The economy must serve people and not the other way around. Work is more than merely a way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in God’s act of creation. If the dignity of work is to be protected, then the basic rights of workers must be respected. In the Bahamian context, especially, it is important to note that workers bear the same responsibility on their side—the responsibility to be productive, to perform their duties with honesty and fidelity, to respect the employer’s property and to discharge the responsibilities every member of the workforce has toward his or her fellow workers.
We are one human family, whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic and ideological differences. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, wherever they may be. Loving our neighbor has global dimensions in a shrinking world. At the core of the virtue of Solidarity is the pursuit of justice and peace. The Gospel calls us to be peacemakers. Our love for neighbor demands that we promote peace in a world surrounded by violence and conflict.
- Care for God’s Creation
We show our respect for God the Creator by our stewardship of creation. Care for the earth is not just an Earth Day slogan; it is a requirement of our faith. We are called to protect people and the planet, living our faith in relationship with all of God’s creation. This environmental challenge has fundamental moral and ethical dimensions that cannot be ignored.
For those who wish to follow Christ, these principles reflect “a manifestation of God in the world, a sign of his presence, a trace of his glory.” Through us, there should shine forth a reflection of God’s presence. This is the character, the light, the freedom that transcends barriers of national boundaries, politics, creed, ethnicity, gender and yes, the bondage of sin. These seven guidelines encompass a moral vision which can launch us on the journey to a truly great society.
The journey towards an even more peaceful Bahamas must begin with raising the level and quality of our conversation on the state of our society. A moral vision is not just about proposing a plan, which often attracts a counter plan. A moral vision requires Bahamians to shape the vision of how we wish our society to be and the pursuit of that vision should be resolute—in shining, lasting deeds, not just soon-forgotten words.
As Pope Benedict XVI says: “Development is impossible without upright men and women, without financiers and politicians, whose consciences are finely attuned to the requirements of the common good.”
It is important to indicate who it is that owns responsibility for law and order in our country. The primary agents of law enforcement are not the police and the courts, but ordinary citizens in their proper civic demeanor. It is only when failure occurs at this level that such other institutions such as the police, the courts and the penal system must be pressed into service. It is important, then, for us to realize that the abandonment of civility initiates a continuum of lack of respect for law and order. In a domino effect, breaching the respect we owe to our neighbors can lead and often does lead to more blatant criminality.
We must create an atmosphere and an environment, which facilitate well-reasoned dialogue on the modeling of civility, civic responsibility and a moral vision that in not overly biased by partisanship.
More than anything else, families and all responsible adults must model the moral vision for the children of our nation. It is especially important for fathers to model the moral vision for their sons, and for older men to do the same for younger ones.
If we genuinely seek to build a society of human flourishing, then we must recover the practice of self-giving in imitation of Christ and every person who ever endured martyrdom for peace and freedom. We must also resuscitate the habit of gratitude. We must remember our responsibility to honor the generosity and sacrifices of those who have gone before us. In the same light, we have a responsibility to those who will come after us. What we pass on will have a great bearing on the life, quality, capacity and fruitfulness of Bahamians who follow us.
The good news is that we are never alone in our striving for the charity that contributes to the building up of our neighbors, our community, our nation and our world. It is fundamental to Christian doctrine that God’s grace will never fail to sustain us in our giving of ourselves.
We are reminded that:
“At every point God in his graciousness supports and upholds our freedom as it seeks to find expression in what is genuinely good. Indeed, through the life, death and resurrection of Christ, God shows us that our freedom is most complete and alive when it realizes itself in a self-giving love. Against the pull of a self-centered autonomy… Christ shows us that we are only truly free in self-transcending for the sake of the other rather than at their expense.”
In other words:
“You have been told, O man, what is good, and what the Lord require of you; only to do the right, and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Or again as St. Paul exhorts in Philippians:
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
May God’s blessings be abundant upon us as we gather in gratitude to celebrate our national Independence. As we do so, may we each and all have a happy and peaceful Independence Day. May God bless The Commonwealth of The Bahamas, always.
Paul VI, “Populorum Progressio” Articles, 18-19.
Anatole Kaletsky in James Hanvey, SJ, “The Big Society and Catholic Social Thinking.” p.2 www.thinkingfaith.org.
John Paul II, The Gospel of Life ( Evangelium Vitae) Art. 14.
Hanvey, “The Big Society and Catholic Social Thinking,” pp2-3.
Cf. the neighbor principle of the Luke 10:29-37.
John Paul II, “The Gospel of Life,”
Matthew 22: 34-40.
The Gospel of Life ( Evanbelium Vitae), Art. 34.
Benedict XVI, “Charity in Truth” ( Caritas in Veritate), Art. 71.
“Charity in Truth,” Art.