"The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ." (#1 Gaudium et Spes, the Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World).

This year, our nation observes its 45th anniversary of political independence with the theme "Annou sélébwé",

Let us celebrate. The obvious question is, "What are we celebrating?

What is there to celebrate?"

Reviewing the current world situation, the Bishops assembled at the Second Vatican Council declared: "Never has the human race enjoyed such an abundance of wealth, resources and economic power, and yet a huge proportion of the world's citizens are still tormented by hunger and poverty, while countless numbers suffer from total illiteracy. Never before has man had so keen an understanding of freedom, yet at the same time, new forms of social and psychological slavery make their appearance. Although today's world has a vivid awareness of its unity and of how one man depends on another in needful solidarity, it is most grievously torn into opposing camps by conflicting forces. For political, social, economic, racial and ideological disputes continue bitterly, and with them, the peril of a war which would reduce everything to ashes. True, there is a growing exchange of ideas, but the very words by which key concepts are expressed take on quite different meanings in diverse ideological systems. Finally, man painstakingly searches for a better world without a corresponding spiritual advancement." (#4 ibid).

Following the voice of the Magisterium (the Teaching Office) of the Church, I propose to examine the lights and shadows of this nation as we complete 45 years of political independence. And so, I return to my original questions: What are we celebrating? Or, more precisely, What is there to celebrate?

Let us begin by celebrating the gift and natural beauty of this God-given land, yet a fragile ecosystem which needs to be nurtured for future generations. We celebrate the people, a resilient community that is not daunted by disasters, natural, political or otherwise. We have survived hurricanes, earthquakes, flooding, attempted coups, and civil unrest.

A resilience that is a result of a strong faith in God's providence. We celebrate, in particular, our young people who have done us proud in various fields of endeavour—sport, academia, entrepreneurship. We celebrate the talent and creativity of our artists, musicians, writers, poets, artisans, and professionals who give selfless and courageous service to the development of our people. We celebrate our first-ever female Head of State, Her Excellency Sylvanie Burton, a member of the Kalinago Community. These we celebrate with heart and soul in thanksgiving to God.

However, we cannot close our eyes to those elements in our society that mar and hinder the joy of recognising our 45th anniversary.

Can we celebrate the demeaning of human life exemplified by the indiscriminate use of firearms to settle disputes? Can we celebrate the numerous instances of crime, violence, and intolerance that have become so prevalent in our society, when we continue to treat the symptoms and not the disease itself, when we turn a blind eye to what is evil because we benefit from it?

Can we celebrate the degradation of ourselves and each other, making excuses for the maltreatment and insults unleashed upon our women, when it seems that to pay tribute to one member of society, we must abuse another? How do we carry ourselves in public, our dress and the choice of music we enjoy?

Can we celebrate a healthcare system purported to be the best in the Region when reality speaks otherwise? Without adequate health care, the people, especially the poor, suffer. We find more and more young men on the streets suffering from mental health issues. It should grieve our hearts to see so many young minds being destroyed by drugs. Can we celebrate the drug trade?

Can we celebrate the fact that the good name of our country and our citizenship are being tarnished, which, consequently, causes other nations to impose visa restrictions on the bona fide citizens of our nation?

After 45 years, can we gloss over those ills? We are invited to celebrate, and celebrate we will but with certain concerns. We pray and hope that true celebration will come from our recognising the need for our urgent attention, as leaders and people of this beautiful Nature Isle, to the shadows that afflict our people. We need to do all we can to walk tall, holding our heads high with pride as we respect the dignity of each human being in our society, as we show the world that indeed we are, as we profess in our National Anthem: "a people strong and healthy, full of godly, reverent fear. A people who live Truth, walk in Goodness and appreciate Beauty. A people who hear the words of prophet Micah:" This is what the Lord asks of you: only this, to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with your God."

God bless our nation.