Q: Archbishop J, how do we promote peace in T&T for 2019?
Peace is not the absence of war or murder; it is the establishment of right relationships within and across society. The high violence and rate of crime in T&T is a reflection of wrong relationships, unhealed hurts and injustices in our society.
Peace requires conversion of hearts, which means change. Peace comes at a cost. We want someone to deliver peace without it costing us anything but that is not possible: we all have a part to play.
I will refer here to Pope Francis’ message for World Day of Peace 2019 in which he outlines the vocation of the politician. His theme is Good politics is at the service of peace.
I will extract a few gems that challenge all of us to be converted to peace. Those who wish to reflect on the Holy Father’s words to politicians, I propose you read the full text.
Peace to your house
The Holy Father begins by quoting Luke 10:5–6, “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace shall rest upon him; but if not, it shall return to you”.
The house, as the Pope affirms, is every person, family, country and continent but the house is also our common home we call earth. Here the Holy Father demonstrated that peace is integral and interconnected. It is established on several levels at the same time. There is no lasting peace unless it exists on all the levels.
If we want peace in T&T in 2019, then we must reflect on all the levels and promote peace at each level. We need to review our relationship with our common home the earth.
Artisans of peace
In the message Pope Francis calls for “artisans of peace”. He says:
“Everyone can contribute his or her stone to help build the common home. Authentic political life, grounded in law and in frank and fair relations between individuals, experiences renewal whenever we are convinced that every woman, man and generation brings the promise of new relational, intellectual, cultural and spiritual energies…Today more than ever, our societies need ‘artisans of peace’ who can be messengers and authentic witnesses of God the Father, who wills the good and the happiness of the human family.”
Later, the Holy Father speaks of peace as beginning with oneself then extending to others and then to our common home. To be artisans of peace we have to be at peace with ourselves. This is the first challenge.
Many of us will still quarrel if we are alone. We keep all the old hurts and pain from the past, almost as a badge of honour or identity. We can recount all the hurts we have received and who did the hurting. Our pain and hurts then becomes the centre of our identity.
As Christians, Christ is supposed to be centre of our identity. It is Christ that fills up all the spaces and heals all the hurts if we let him. To be artisans of peace we need to start with Christ, not as peripheral to our existence, but as core and centre of our identity. Then we have right relationship with God and self; right relationship with neighbour and creation.
A people of non-violence
Listen to the way we speak to each other. There is such violence in our language and on the media. Answering the call to be artisans of peace must begin in the family. This will call for a conversion of heart.
Our parenting in T&T is so negative—we often point out all that is negative, expecting that the positive will flow. It does not. Our negative speech to children undermines their capacity to be artisans of peace.
In the family let us look at our parenting style. Do we demean and ridicule our children to make a point or to correct? This undermines their confidence; it brings violence into the home and into the nation.
Artisans of peace relate to others in a way of peace and non-violence, not just in the family but also in the school, church and workplace.
To build peace in our nation, we all need to work tirelessly at reforming how we communicate and relate with each other. It must also affect how we drive. Yes! Our driving is certainly not non-violent.
Non-violence begins with me. It spreads to all others whom we meet and with whom we come into contact. It is the foundation for peace and transformation of Trinidad and Tobago.
We are celebrating 70 years of the human rights charter which guarantees the rights of each person. Trinidad and Tobago is a signatory to this convention. However, we seem to pick and choose who has rights and who does not.
We have over 2,000 people on remand in our prisons in T&T. Half of these are for murder and the other half are charged for other crimes—most of which are bailable offences.
Hundreds of people are in prison because they are too poor to post bail—about one fifth of the prison population. It is even more sad. Our laws allow bail to be posted in cash but some magistrates do not allow this; they want a property deed free from any mortgage. This is not fair. Justice works for people who have money but does not work for those who do not. This is an injustice in our society.
And then there are hundreds who have spent more time on remand awaiting trial than they would have spent if they had been tried, convicted and handed down the maximum sentence. This does not contribute to peace in Trinidad and Tobago.
The refugee situation in our country is another area where we find injustice. We have children in our country not going to school because they are refugees. This is a violation of their human rights.
Peace is either peace for all or it is not at all. As Pope Paul VI has said, “If you want peace, work for justice”.
If we want peace upon this House, Trinidad and Tobago, we must all be open to conversion and come to right relationships and confront injustice. That is how we promote peace in T&T.
Key Message: Peace requires right relationships with God, others, self and creation.
Action Step: As we begin this new year, reflect on how you bring peace or not into your circle of influence. Ask God for conversion of heart that you could better serve him as the Prince of Peace.
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 9:6–7, John 14:27