The time is ripe for hope: the closure of Petrotrin, declining numbers at Mass and falling collections, a bleak economic outlook. There is also climate change to which the Caribbean islands are particularly vulnerable, and a daunting health care bill due to the migration challenge paint a worrisome picture.
In the face of all of this we might be tempted to rely on false hope—like a national budget meant to appease the crowd in the midst of elections fever—three of them—a whopping 400 national scholarships and fake news about unemployment levels.
As we approach local government elections on Monday, we observe the low-keyed nature of events leading up to these elections. It is as if people are tired—beaten down by the economic climate, recurring endemic problems, fed-up with ethnic rivalry. Yet we must not lose heart.
Local government elections are very important and, in a sense, more decisive than general elections. Local government elections must truly be local: it must meet people where they are, in the cities, towns and villages.
As former Speaker of the US House of Representatives Tip O’Neil used to say: “All politics is local”. Underlying this is a deep theological corollary: local communities matter.
While we speak of the Church Universal, the Universal Church is also present in the local Church or diocese. The local Church in turn comprises parishes that are in communion with one another. Analogously, do electoral districts feel central government truly cares about them? Is in communion and solidarity with them? The answer on the ground is ‘no’.
Over the decades both Church and government have become alienated from their constituents.
The rising tensions in Hong Kong are mirrored in countries of South America, Europe and the Middle East. Large portions of constituents, especially the young, are disenchanted with governments as people protest over basic human rights, equity and corruption.
The Church too is sliding in numbers in most countries, especially in its traditional heartlands. We have lost too many of our people, like governments who have lost the hearts of theirs. The way back is through humility: both Church and government must start listening all over again.
Listening involves its own ‘jihad’ or ‘struggle’: we struggle to listen to those who disagree with us; it is easy listening to those who do. While many moral norms do not change, we still have to listen, and not as if we have a pre-conceived answer. We must listen to youth who live in a digital age that is rapidly developing; those who claim alternative genders; people with special needs, including the mentally ill; brothers and sisters in a seemingly unending wave of migration; the poor and victims of violence.
Listening creates hope, as when a young virgin of Nazareth listened to the Spirit and an angel and taught her Son to listen to others, especially those whose narratives didn’t matter to the people of power.
His Father too listened to Him from the cross and provided hope for humanity by raising Him from the dead.
Let us enter Advent then believing that Heaven and earth will pass away but the words of Jesus, the stories of hope, will not pass away.