Guyana Chronicle Online
PRIME Minister Samuel Hinds, performing the duties of the Office of President, yesterday inaugurated World Inter-Faith Harmony Week in Guyana.
Participants at yesterday’s launch of the World Interfaith Harmony Week on the lawns of State House, Georgetown. (Cullen Bess-Nelson photos) At the ceremony, leaders of many local religious faiths offered prayers and perspectives on respect and tolerance, underscoring the oneness and unifying potential of religion.
At the function, held on the lawns of State House, in Main Street, Mr. Hinds deputised for President Bharrat Jagdeo, who is out of the country.
The highlight of the week of activities will be a march, scheduled for tomorrow, from the Cenotaph, at Main and Church Streets, to a rally at Independence Square, in Middle Street, also in Georgetown, between 11:00 hrs and 13:00 hrs.
At the commencement of yesterday’s programme, prayers were said by representatives of various religious groupings, including Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Baha’is, Indigenous Peoples, Mystical Apostolic Council and Rastafarians.
Last October, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly passed a resolution, calling for religious dialogue, cooperation and active work to create, maintain and strengthen inter-faith harmony and goodwill.
Joined in song! Acting President Sam Hinds and other officials at the launch of World Interfaith Harmony Week sing a lusty rendition of ‘O Beautiful Guyana’.
“And the world needs this, at this time and Guyana needs it, too. So Guyana was pleased to be one of the sponsors of that resolution,” Prime Minister Hinds said.
He noted the statements of the speakers who preceded him, that the religions people practise come from a common source, leading to the same place and that differing faiths are not meant to be barriers but should be used to build bridges.
Mr. Hinds said, at this time in the world, there is some sensitivity related to differences in religion. “So we must work to overcome those.”
He said he, himself, coming from a home that had a strong Christian background, could not accept the assertion that, because others close to him were not of the same religion, they would not be allowed to enjoy the same promise of the after life.
“While I concur with the speakers [who alluded] to the oneness of humankind and the fact that religions are all leading us to the same place and, maybe, there should be no differences, I want to recognise that there will be challenges in the different rituals that each faith [practises]. So our challenge is to work together, even in the presence of awareness of differences in rituals and differences in belief,” Mr. Hinds said.
Bishop Juan Edghill, who chaired the proceedings, said the Government of Guyana has, persistently, pursued partnerships with the religious community.
Presidential Advisor on Governance, Ms. Gail Teixeira, who spoke of the model of partnership between Government and the religious community, added: “This is an important model which we need to recognise.”
Offering an historical perspective, she said there is no doubt that religion has played a role in the abolition of slavery, the struggles for independence, for free and fair elections and the restoration of democracy.
Teixeira said, between the years 1992 and 1997, the engagement with the religious community was, mainly, to further the debate on domestic violence in the search for solutions.
“There were sharp differences between the legislation put forward by the Government and those of the religious community. However, after the 1997 elections violence, there was the recognition that we had to go to constitutional reform and, in that process, it was the first time that the religious community was given or offered a seat at the table in a very formal setting. That was in the Constitution Reform Commission that sat from 1999 to 2003, when the three main religions of Guyana had a seat at the table, with the parliamentary parties, the business community and the professional bodies, to look at radical constitutional reform in our society,” she said.
Now, Teixeira said, the Constitution builds in the whole issue of respect and tolerance, where there is no acceptance of religious intolerance or racial hostility.
She said the constitutional changes have been influenced by the presence of the religious community on that Commission. “It is not sitting there or being invited to be a token. It is a seat at the table in a formal way. It is about having a voice and hearing the other side which may not, necessarily, agree with you.”
Teixeira said the National Stakeholders Forum, which was established in 2007, had concretised what had been the Government’s policy for a long time, that on any issue of national importance, the Government must seek the guidance of the religious community, the labour movement, women and Amerindian organisations.
“This is like the template for the Government,” she remarked.
Also speaking at the forum, UN Resident Representative, Mr. Kiari Liman-Tinguiri agreed that harmony and dialogue are inseparable.
He observed, too, that inter-religious dialogue requires skill and developing it would require persons to be open to views that might differ from their own.
“It requires mutual respect, tact and tolerance. Religion must not be part of the problem but rather part of the solution,” he posited.