There we were in Jamaica's National Arena, celebrating 500 years of Catholic Witness in Jamaica, and Jamaica's 50th Anniversary of Independence last Sunday. We had expected to be addressed by the charismatic Archbishop Charles Dufour and were a bit disappointed when we noted that it was the visiting Archbishop of Accra, Ghana, who would be giving the homily.
Quickly, disappointment turned to awe. The goodly Archbishop Charles Palmer-Buckle confessed to us that there was some sadness mixed with the joy he felt to be with us. Little did we know that he himself would be making history on that stage - by making the first apology for slavery that Jamaicans had ever heard from an African leader.
"I apologise for the acts of my ancestors for selling your ancestors into slavery," he declared. "Please join me as we sing..." At this point I expected to hear a song like Amazing Grace. But no! Archbishop Palmer-Buckle invited us to sing: Redemption Song!
"How long shall they kill our prophets while we stand aside and look?" His strong voice rang through the very National Arena where Bob Marley had lain in state 31 years before. We, his emotional congregation, sang with him, "But my hand was made strong, by the hand of the Almighty! We forward in this generation - triumphantly!"
And so we sang - every word, every line from beginning to end - while some sisters and brothers stood and raised their hands to punctuate the searing words. And as we ended with, "Redemption song - songs of freedom - redemption song ...." the healing washed over us and the archbishop announced, "Now we are connected."
Further, he reminded us that it was our Marcus Mosiah Garvey whose teachings had inspired African leaders to work towards self-government. I wonder if Archbishop Palmer-Buckle knows that towards the end of his life, Garvey converted to Catholicism.
We, the sponsors of young people receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation at the assembly, had dreaded the six-hour stretch of rehearsal and worship. However, we hardly noticed the time after the archbishop spoke - such is the power of the spirit which spoke through this brilliant Ghanaian.
The next day, we headed to Mandeville to meet with a group of Manchester seniors. This followed advocacy activities by CCRP (Caribbean Community of Retired Persons) on behalf of Windalco pensioners who had been suddenly advised early this year that they would no longer receive health benefits. This seemed yet another type of betrayal - a betrayal of trust at a time when ageing pensioners are at their most vulnerable.
Indeed, as some of these distinguished gentlemen related the environmental challenges of their former workplace, it became clear that the type of jobs in which they were engaged may have contributed to some of the chronic conditions from which they were suffering. We learnt that since losing their health benefits, three pensioners had died since February, apparently because they could not afford proper medical care!
We understand that the NWU and the company have been having talks - we are praying that no more of these hard-working pensioners will die before an amicable agreement is reached.
With every event or meeting, we become more strongly motivated to protect the rights of our elderly, they who sacrificed their own comfort for that of succeeding generations. When we hear their stories, the initiatives they took, their innovations - we know that it is not a duty, but indeed a privilege to protect these, our thousands of unsung heroes.
As we listen with interest to the arguments over plans for Jamaica 50, I am glad that CCRP launched our Living Legacy Programme last August and honoured 62 nation builders in February and earlier this month. Our diligent research has paid off: we now have a sound database which we have been sharing with the media, and we appreciate the resulting series of interviews being conducted by virtually all our media houses.
Even as we celebrate their legacy, let us remember that our seniors need our support to remain well and healthy, enjoying as our motto says, "Life to the fullest". Let every family and community know that by developing a culture of care and concern for our elderly, we will become the eventual beneficiaries. CCRP is now two years old and nearly 700 members strong.
Permit me to congratulate CCRP member Pamela Miller who has been installed as the new president of the Lion's Club of New Kingston, succeeding Winsome Thomas.
CG Christie's warning
You may not all love him, but you must admit that Contractor General Greg Christie has made Jamaica a more honest country. In a recent speech he warned against political tribalism: "Jamaicans must begin to resist ... 'tribal politics' ... which seems to require that everyone and everything should be first assessed through a perceived green or orange political prism, and then be treated accordingly, whether via facilitation or via isolation."
He continued: "Besides corruption, political tribalism is perhaps the next single largest impediment to the country's attainment of sustained economic growth and social development, and we should put an immediate end to it before it destroys and decimates all of us." Good politicians (this is not an oxymoron) can use this Golden Jubilee year to appeal to their cynical colleagues and work to stamp out tribalism. Please stand up for Jamaica!
Happy Independence Day, USA
On Wednesday the USA celebrates its 236th Anniversary of Independence and remains a strong partner for Jamaica. Through USAID and educational funding, the United States has helped us to establish sustainable projects, shared their rich culture and celebrated ours. Best wishes to our generous American sisters and brothers.