By Sr Renée K Hall OP
The year 2020 will go down in the annals of our history books as the one that presented unprecedented challenges at all levels of society. Every aspect of how we understand ourselves has been affected by this COVID-19 pandemic. This has been a time of deep questioning of our personal and communal values. Another significant event that will mark this year is the General Elections that will take place on Monday, August 10 in Trinidad and Tobago. It is a moment for us to dare to dream again not only for ourselves but for future generations.
As Catholics our lives are guided by the laws and traditions of Holy Mother Church, the laws of the nation and an informed conscience. We are duty bound at this critical juncture to actively participate in the process that will elect the next cadre of leaders.
We hope that they will serve with distinction by recognising the sacredness of the political office that they will occupy.
The duty of each Christian lies in their responsibility to place the Common Good before self-interest which involves the “respect for the person, [their] social well-being and [the]development of the group itself [through the pursuit of] peace” (1905-1909, Catechism of the Catholic Church).
Additionally, the Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago cites that “every person in Trinidad and Tobago has the fundamental duty…to use the opportunities made available to him[her]…to participate in the government of the Nation” (Chapter 2, Article 29b).
Each citizen by voting for a representative of their choice makes a commitment to holding that person accountable for good governance, fairness and justice. Those running for elected office should not be fuelled by a thirst for power, an insatiable quest for money, but a genuine desire to serve the people and to improve their quality of life.
In these few days leading up to polling day I would like to offer a simple formula—the Six Ps. This would require that you tune into the various rallies as they are streamed live and also to dialogue with the candidates during their walkabouts.
Do you know the philosophies of the parties that have come forward?
Can you look around the places where you live and identify avenues for progress?
Does your candidate have an understanding of the processes that are involved in facilitating systemic, structured and sustainable change?
Have they clearly outlined programmes for all members of the community especially the youth and the elderly who often find themselves on the fringes of the society?
Do their policies address the alleviation of poverty, education for all, the protection of human life, economic changes, fair taxation, environmental protection and upholding the human rights of migrant populations?
Are people in every sector of the society at the heart of all they propose to do and to be since a democracy speaks to government of, for and by the people? What kind of person are they? Do their words align themselves with what has been revealed about them in their public and private lives? Do their values square with your own and in doing so they can advance society?
The Bishops Conference of England and Wales (2010) stated “…everyone involved in politics and public life must accept that personal character and moral standards are as relevant to public life as they are to private life.”
General elections can be seen as Eucharistic moments where we encounter the many ways as a country that we are blessed with persons who possess a variety of gifts that they desire to use for the transformation of our society.
There is our brokenness through the character assassination and the harsh judgements that at times become part of the exchange between political entities and their supporters.
Yet, we recognise the potential of each candidate to be shared out beyond measure for the good of the other. Our society is supposed to be built on lasting truths that sustain us as human beings such as charity, trust, service, accountability, and compassion.
As we make bold strides towards the ballot boxes, let us be reminded that every generation is called to do better than their ancestors. These rights that we claim as our own have not come at a small cost.
The words of now deceased Sir Ellis Clarke, the first President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago come to mind as I ponder the magnitude of the mandate which accompanies being a good citizen. He said at a lecture I attended years ago, “you do not always do what you want but what you ought and do it well”. We who have received so much must hear the words noblesse oblige, with great privilege comes great responsibility. We are duty bound to move beyond the apathy and perceived powerlessness and paralysis that are experienced by some sectors.
May we dare to see ourselves as a part of a web of relationships which impact on the individual while recognising the synergy that exists within the whole. Participating in the democratic process of which elections are an integral element allows us to actively co-construct the type of society that we desire. May we be given the grace to move beyond myopia by putting on the fresh lens required for 2020.
As we sift through the political rhetoric of these days may we lean on the Spirit of wisdom who knows and understands everything, she will guide [us] prudently in [our] actions and guard [us] with her glory (Wis 9:11).
Sr Renée K Hall OP is a Dominican Sister, and a teacher and Dean at Holy Name Convent, Port of Spain.