Archbishop’s New Year message of hope!

Archbishop Robert Rivas.

Archbishop Robert Rivas.

Following on Hurricane Tomas a fresh wind of opportunity now blows over St Lucia. Tomas caused a crisis, which now presents us with opportunities for forging a national consciousness that makes us more concerned about the welfare of each other and our nation. In some ways we may have felt cheated by Tomas for depriving us of our celebration of Jounen Kwéyol and for putting a damper on our Christmas festivities.  Tomas, however, must not be for us an excuse, but a reference point for moving forward.  The words of the Prophet Isaiah should echo loud and clear for us this Christmas ‘say to the faint-hearted, be strong! Do not be afraid (Is 35: 4).

The decision of the Government in collaboration with the Churches in St Lucia to call for a National Day of Prayer on the feast of St Lucy, our National Day, was timely.  Our nation needs healing.  Tomas may have opened new wounds but our nation has been hemorrhaging and weighed down for a long time by a heavy burden of violence and social decadence.  In the short period of time between December 3 – 5, this year, there were five murders in St Lucia.  The serious disregard for human life and disrespect for the dignity of the human person has a numbing effect on the lives of all our citizens.  Anti-social behaviour and the continuing disappearance of moral values and standards are more detrimental to our welfare than even the greatest disaster that can be brought about by a hurricane.  There is no substitute for respect for self and others, respect for human life and human dignity or for justice, truth, peace, moral rectitude and righteousness.

In reflecting on the total experience of Tomas in the context of the Day of Prayer for the Nation on December 13, it is clear that there is a value in bringing people together for the purpose of prayer and solidarity in a time of crisis.  We are a nation of believers and in a time of crisis and distress our faith should help to see us through.  We cannot allow the darkness of fear or hopelessness to overwhelm us.  In unity there is strength and bonding.  Through faith comes healing and hope.

In the tapestry of our social decay and natural disaster there is a thread of hope that is being pulled from community to community as people tell their story of survival.  Many have come to value community in a new way and have expressed their wish for something better for their communities.  This has been further reinforced in the plea to put aside selfishness and show greater care and concern for one another as sisters and brothers.  In our communities people are talking to each other again.  Human suffering has bonded us together and throughout the nation there is concern and solidarity.  Is this not the message of Christmas?  This clearly is a sign of hope.

In listening to the testimony of people it is clear that many have rediscovered the power of prayer, which has challenged them to rise above their complacency and tendency to take things for granted.  With prayer comes conversion.  Conversion brings about a complete turnaround in our lives, which opens us to God and to our neighbour.   It is necessary that we pray not only as individuals or families but also as a nation. Prayer strengthens our resilience.  In the Second Book of Chronicles we are reminded that God hears the prayer of the humble:  ‘If my people who bear my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my presence and turn from their wicked ways, then I will listen from heaven and forgive their sins and restore their country’ (2 Chronicles 7: 14).  God has heard our prayer and the time of restoration has begun.  Prayer also teaches us to be patient, like the farmer who looks at his banana fields destroyed and submerged in silt, and who can say with a deep inner peace “I have to wait till April next year to restore it”.   God will not abandon us.  These are lessons we learn when as a nation we unite in faith and prayer.  This too is a sign of hope.

As many shared their story another thread of hope that has been pulled in the tapestry of our national disaster and social and moral decay has been the value placed on life.  Many have come to realize how precious life is and are grateful to God for being alive.  Many have compared the loss of property and material things as nothing in comparison to the value of preserving one’s life.  Some have had to leave their comfort behind them and have lost everything, like the mother who barely had time to rescue her son who was waist deep in mud in his room, and escaped to safety.  The lesson learnt from this terrible experience of destruction and disaster is the need to cherish and respect life always.  Hardly a story has been told without reference being made to the importance of the gift of life.  Over and over again I have heard people say: “Thank God for life”; “Thank God we are alive”.   We are a people who cherish and respect life.   Isn’t this at the heart of the Christmas mystery?  This thread of life is indeed a great sign of hope.

Our Nation has had its wake-up call, which has clearly caught us by surprise and left us bewildered but not defeated.  How much has it changed us?  Only time will tell.  But the ground is fertile for change and new beginnings.  Disaster can bring out the best and the worst in us.  In our giving and caring, people need to be treated with dignity and respect. This Christmas I encourage you to pull the thread of hope in the tapestry being weaved in the story of our Nation.  Let love and hope make you kind, gentle, understanding, generous, forgiving and caring.  Let Hurricane Tomas be for us a reference point this Christmas for giving and sharing with families who are dislocated, separated, and distressed, like the Holy Family that was also dislocated, threatened and distressed.  Our giving and sharing will ensure that no one is left out of the circle of care and peace this Christmas.  On our part this will be a cause of hope and joy.

I am indeed grateful to all of you who have responded to your neighbours’ needs in the aftermath of the hurricane, and encourage you to continue to reach out to those whose needs will extend into 2011.

The Archdiocese has successfully planned and executed three workshops dealing with trauma.  It was very encouraging in planning these Workshops on Trauma Management to see the response on the part of our caregivers and counselors who were anxious and wanted to be trained so that they could reach out to individuals and communities that need care.  People want to serve and be part of the healing process.  This again is a sign of hope.

Christmas is the victory of light over darkness; hope over despair.  God did not stop the storm, He allowed St Lucia to be covered by a dark cloud of death and destruction and now He shows us the way to rise from the ashes.  Now we can sing our Christmas song “O Holy Night” with new meaning and insight as we reflect on God’s saving grace:  ‘For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn’.  This is our thread of hope. May you have a hope-filled New Year.

— Robert Rivas, O.P., Archbishop of Castries.

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