Bishop Gabriel Malzaire
Bishop Gabriel Malzaire

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we have come to the 38th anniversary of the birth of our nation, for which we need to thank Almighty God. As always, it serves as an opportunity to recommit ourselves to the common task of nation building, as emphasized in this year's theme: "Strengthening our Commitment to Nation Building".

This responsibility of nation building, which is both individual and collective, is often misunderstood; it is limited to the physical, infrastructural and fiscal. How unfortunate! To be true to its goal, nation building has to be integral. It encompasses every aspect of the human pursuit; it embraces every stage of human development and involves every citizen of a nation: the young, adults and seniors alike. It embraces the physical, emotional, psychological, religious, spiritual, and every other aspect of the human endeavour.

Nation Building is by nature positive. It begins with what happens within the most basic and fundamental unit of society – the nuclear family. It is there that the seeds of nation building are sown and nurtured in the heart of a child. It is in the family that the Gospel values of respect, honesty, caring, sharing, responsible citizenship, service, collaboration among others should be taught, praised, reinforced and rewarded. A well-rounded child will feel empowered to make a positive contribution to society. I invite all parents to reflect seriously on the significance of your role in the family and work purposefully and diligently in the formation of your child. Failure to do so can be catastrophic.

In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, the Bishops of the Antilles issued a statement on the abolition of Capital Punishment in the region. In that statement the Bishops made reference to the words of our Holy Father, Francis who, during his visit of a prison in Mexico this last February, said: our "prisons are an indication of the kind of society we are. In many cases they are a sign of the silence and omissions which have led to a throwaway culture, a symptom of a culture that has stopped supporting life, a society that has abandoned its children." In so many ways, this text speaks to the challenges we face in making the much needed progress in nation building.

In the same statement, the Bishops urged our region's leaders "to strengthen the capacity of public institutions, including criminal justice systems, to address crime and violence; to address the risk factors that contribute to crime, for example: poverty, urban decay, social inequality and exclusion, family disintegration, poor parenting, lack of housing, the proliferation of guns, drugs and gangs in the region, and to employ related preventative measures."

The point being communicated here is the absolute need for greater attention to the cause rather than the effect of situations that are wanting. In other words, in our efforts to build our nation to the desired level, we must be able to ask the right questions, such as: why is our world, our society, our community, or our church, where it is today? And of course, the inevitable must follow: What can I do, what must I do, what must we do to make a positive difference?

This reminds me of a statement by Don Hélder Câmara, the former Archbishop of Olinda & Recife in his work among the poor of Brazil. He said: "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist." Nation building requires us to develop the attitude which will work towards a state where everyone will have enough to eat, sufficient to drink and have a great sense of physical, psychological, spiritual, educational well-being. Nation building is more about people and less about things.

This time of year is usually one in which we put our patriotism on display. But it will be less than authentic if we are not willing to make the contribution that only we can make to nation building. The often quoted saying of J.F. Kennedy holds true: "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." With such a disposition, one which looks at the bigger picture, genuine nation building will be sure.

Certain individuals and groups in our society, by virtue of their position, assist in bringing this about. I speak of His Excellency, the President, the Honourable Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, other Members of Parliament, religious leaders, health personnel, the judiciary, the law enforcement personnel, teachers and other civil servants, the business community, farmers and fisher folks among others. I wish to express profound gratitude to them for their contribution to the development of our society, our nation.

We cannot do it alone; we need the Lord. I pray God's abundant blessings upon each one of us, and upon our nation.

Happy Birthday Dominica!