Speaking just minutes before church bells pealed to ring in this country’s 50th anniversary of independence, Archbishop Joseph Harris made a stunning but honest statement about our nation. He questioned whether this country—our country Trinidad and Tobago—had lost its way over the course of the past 50 years. Stunning, because we might not have expected the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in this archdiocese to be so forthright in exposing what is obviously a fomenting sore of divisiveness in our society, which many would prefer to leave hidden, though only partially, under the carpet. Honest, because it is a fact that there is great disunity in our country and this archbishop showed he was not afraid to say so, testimony to the courageous and frank leadership style of the new leader of Roman Catholics in Trinidad and Tobago. He placed the blame for the increasing disunity in the country firmly at the feet of the political leadership of all the various hues and ideologies when he said, “Given the present scenario, we must ask ourselves whether or not we have lost our way, for if our leaders—in the Government and Opposition—cannot find it in themselves to put aside their differences for the sake of our nation, to give commitment to unity for this very divided land of ours on this most important anniversary, then something has gone terribly wrong and the dream of the forefathers of the nation, ‘Together we aspire, together we achieve’, has been lost.”
Archbishop Harris added that the current state of affairs in the country was not in line with the vision that was created for our nation in the year of its birth. Part of his Independence message, as relayed in his homily, the Archbishop said, “I urge all citizens to let us love our country. I urge our elected representatives of all faiths, but especially of our faith to put country before self and political affiliation. I urge you elected representatives to work, to endeavour to build a united country of which we can all be proud.” Another question which could logically be asked is whether we, as citizens of this beloved land, had lost our way, or whether, goaded by gilded egos and the drunkenness brought on by the taste of power, the politicians and other national leaders have caused us to lose our way? Or put another way, the greed and materialism, which has been the product of rampant indiscipline, lawlessness and dishonesty, which has now enveloped a once orderly society, has turned the people into haters.
The conundrum, therefore, which the country now faces, is exacerbated by regular assaults on the psyche of the people, which has led to confusion and a “don’t-care-a-damn” attitude which has now pervaded daily living. Paradoxically, as the Archbishop noted, was the deep compassion shown by neighbours, friends, brothers, sisters and other family members in response to the flood disaster which overtook so many in Diego Martin recently. He said it was reflected glowingly by the outpouring of generosity shown by citizens from all walks of life as they came forward to help in whatever way they could, and he urged his people to “become agents of change in our families, in our schools and in our nation.” He added, “For hand in hand, with common purpose, we can make Trinidad and Tobago what God intended it to be.”
• Vernon Khelawan is the media relations officer of the Catholic Media services Ltd (Camsel), whose offices are at 31 Independence Square, Port-of-Spain. Telephone: 623-7620.