Greetings delivered at Independence Anniversary Inter-Faith Service
York College, Queens, New York, 20 May 2018
Honorable Consul-General of Guyana in New York, Ms. Barbara Atherly.
Distinguished leaders of the religious faiths here with us this afternoon,
My Guyanese brothers and sisters,
I’m so glad you could join us this afternoon so that we could have a moment of reflection together, six days before the 52nd anniversary of our independence. How far we have come as a nation, where we are right now, and what are the challenges that lie ahead.
It is good that we have come together in an Inter-Faith Service. The religions represented here symbolize the diversity of our country.
You have heard this afternoon from each of the religious leaders. And at the core of the teachings of their respective religions is the message: "Love thy neighbor".
And here I want to be real with you.
The message is not love thy neighbor if they belong to the same ethnic group as you.
Not love them if the texture of their hair is the same as yours.
Not love them only if they belong to the same political party as you.
But "Love thy neighbor", without qualifications, and without conditions.
Because we're all Guyanese, whether we're living in Guyana or here in the diaspora.
We're one people, one nation, on a journey together to one destination. And that destination is a place where we live harmoniously, working together as one people to make Guyana a better place - one that we can all be proud of.
There are some who say our diversity is our weakness. I disagree. I say our diversity and our differences are a source of strength.
Just imagine how boring, how impoverishing it would be if we all looked the same way, if we all think the same way.
Our diversity enriches us, makes us stronger.
For example, iron by itself is strong. But when you mix it with a little carbon, a little manganese, a little chromium, and other elements what do you get? You get steel, which is even stronger.
But I'm also glad we have our religious leaders here with us today for another reason. And that is because the teachings of the great religions can help strengthen the moral dimension of our development.
Development without morality is no development at all!
Development is not only the new roads we build, necessary though they are. It is not only about fancy new housing estates. It is not about oil and gas. Necessary and welcome though all these things are.
It is about people. Development must be people-centered.
And in particular, it is about how we treat the less fortunate among us. How we treat those who are different from us.
It is about building a kinder, gentler, more caring society.
And to help us follow that moral compass, we need our organized religions to play an active role. We need vibrant churches, temples, mosques. We need them to be active in their communities, reaching out to our young people, teaching them to love one another and to love their neighbors.
Let me conclude with one more reflection. We are about to celebrate 52 years of our political independence as a nation State. But Guyana is not 52 years old. Our first peoples were here thousands of years before Christopher Columbus and Sir Walter Raleigh ever set eyes on the Guyana coast.
And so today, let us also lift up and celebrate our first peoples, with their centuries-old traditions, their culture and their religions that are very much a part of the fabric of our multicultural society.
I'd like to invite each of you here this afternoon to take the opportunity of the anniversary of our independence to recommit to Guyana, recommit to building a new and stronger Guyana, independent and free, with people at the center. A Guyana in which we care for each other and look out for each other as one people, one nation, with one destiny.
I thank you.