Leela Ramdeen, Chair, CCSJ & Director, CREDI
I share hereunder a speech I delivered in London at a Thanksgiving Service organised by my now deceased friend, Rev Patricia Stephens, in London in 2011:
Good afternoon my brothers and sisters. It is indeed a pleasure for me to be able to join you as we celebrate the resilience, determination and achievements of Spiritual (Shouter) Baptists over the years. I bring warm greetings from the CCSJ and the Catholic Church in TT, and commit to continue to stand in solidarity with you as you seek to live by the tenets of your faith.
It is right that during this Thanksgiving Service, we pay tribute to those members of your faith community who struggled gallantly for justice and equality during the thirty four long, cruel years from 1917 to 1951 when Spiritual Baptists and their observances were banned in TT through the Shouters Prohibition Ordinance of November 16th 1917.
As historians have noted: “Worshipers were arrested, beaten and jailed if they were caught practising their religion…Nevertheless the Spiritual and Shouter Baptists survived.” Your forebears fought many court battles and lobbied constantly for the repeal of the 1917 Ordinance. We salute their constancy of purpose and their determination. On January 26, 1996, then Prime Minister Basdeo Panday declared March 30 Spiritual Baptist Shouter Liberation Day.
The fundamental human right to believe in God is a prerequisite for full human development. We live in a highly secularised world in which religion is increasingly being relegated to the margins. Indeed, Religious Freedom is still not a reality in many parts of our world. That is why Pope Benedict XVI saw it fit in January 2011 to focus in his message on the World Day of Peace on the theme: Religious Freedom, the Path to Peace.
He rightly said that: “The right to religious freedom is rooted in the very dignity of the human person… Religion should not be marginalised or prohibited, but seen as making an effective contribution to the promotion of the common good… In a globalized world marked by increasingly multi-ethnic and multi-religious societies, the great religions can serve as an important factor of unity and peace for the human family.”
As human beings, we are multi-dimensional and we have a duty to develop all aspects of our being – spiritual, moral, intellectual, physical, social, cultural, political, economic etc. It is important to acknowledge our spiritual dimension as it is this dimension that helps to instill in us morals and values that guide us as we journey through life. It is our spiritual dimension that leads us to love God and our neighbour; to promote mutual respect for each other; to be concerned about the welfare of each other.
As believers, we must be united in promoting peace; in building a better world for all. We have work to do. It was Eleanor Powell who said: “What we are is God’s gift to us. What we become is our gift to God.” So, as we give thanks today for His many gifts, let us resolve to use these in a way that will be pleasing to Him.
Be proud of your faith, it is an integral part of who you are. Spiritual Baptists continue to contribute much to humanity. I extend to you warm greetings and share with you joy and pride as you give thanks on this momentous occasion. May God bless you all.
Photo courtesy the Office of the Prime Minister Facebook page.