Faith Demands Responsive and Responsible Citizenship

A Pastoral Letter in Preparation for the 2007 General Election

April 5, 2007

 

I. Introduction

Beloved in Christ:

We gather to celebrate the central feast of our faith.  Holy Thursday is the beginning of the Easter Triduum.  On this occasion, we recall the great command of Jesus that we love one another and that we express that love by service to one another. Jesus demonstrated this command in symbolic form by washing the feet of his disciples.  Having done so, he invited his disciples to go and do likewise. “If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.  I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” (John 13: 14-15)

We are once again on the threshold of a general election. This is a time when we must engage ourselves in the most important exercise of any democratic nation. We must exercise the privilege of electing the men and women who will form the next Parliament with the mandate to govern our commonwealth. Those whom we elect to govern us are a true reflection of the basic values we hold near and dear to ourselves. This is an exercise that we dare not take lightly. We must approach it with full seriousness, much thought, much prayer and radical honesty.

Our country is experiencing great change at this time. Some of the changes we see about us can lead to an affirmation of much that contributes to a peaceful and productive community. Other developments hold the potential to negate all that binds a community together in peace and prosperity.

Recently, we heard of leases being granted to energy companies to explore for oil on the Bahama Banks, a development that raises concerns among those who care about preserving the quality of our environment. The fears have been as great, as we confront the possibility of a liquefied natural gas plant being established on one of our northern islands. Every other month we hear of government giving approval for a new anchor project, which will inject millions of dollars in foreign investment into our economy. While we celebrate the job creation potential of such initiatives, we are deeply concerned that these massive intrusions of foreign lifestyles can do great harm to the traditions, social structure and culture of our Bahamian way of life as we know it.  Every day seem to bring news of crimes that are increasingly devastating.

Very shortly, thousands of Bahamian citizens will be going to the polls to choose the men and women who will form the government of The Commonwealth of The Bahamas for the next five years. This circumstance gives rise to a vital question in the minds of many:  What should the role of responsible citizens be at this dynamic and life changing time in our history? In the face of the many decisions that Bahamians are being called to make, what criteria should be the basis of our choices? This pastoral letter is offered as an aid to clarifying some of the issues that surround the general elections and the exercise of one of the most precious rights of the citizen—the right to vote and to choose who will govern our commonwealth.

II. A Call to Do Our Duty

First of all, know that the Church considers registration and voting to be the moral obligation of a responsible citizen. It is our duty to answer the call to full, active and conscious citizenship and thus promote the common good.  That is to ensure the necessary social conditions that allow people to reach their full human potential and to realize their human dignity.

III. What is Our Duty? On What Basis Should We Make Our Choices?

As a community of faith, we commit to ordering our lives according to the life of Christ and the wisdom of the Christian tradition. It is our duty to work for and to preserve the common good. This means that we cannot make our choices at the polls on the spur of the moment. We cannot choose in anger, ignorance or in expectation of a mere personal payoff. We should not “sell” or squander our votes. Our choice of a candidate should not be based merely on party membership or family pressure.

In answering the call to full, active and conscious citizenship, we are obliged to do so in a way that brings together our faith, moral principles and public responsibilities. While this may sound complex, it is something that is well within our power to perform.

IV. The First Steps

Begin by examining and being very sure of the principles and values by which we should order our life, by which we would wish to see our community administered. Even the smallest children have a general knowledge of what contributes to their wellbeing.

As members of the Catholic community, we each have an obligation to begin our preparation for elections by knowing and reflecting upon the wisdom of our faith and our Catholic social principles. In examining these principles, all persons of goodwill will discover they contain a firm foundation on which to build a community of peace—a true commonwealth.

V. Catholic Social Principles

VI. Living Your Faith

As members of our community of faith, we must ensure that our own daily conduct and conversation conform to our Catholic faith and its tradition of social thought. Indeed we must first know and internalize these principles.  As St. Paul instructs: “Do not conform yourself to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.”  (Romans 12:2)   We are called to peace. We are called to ensure that our faith and values are an essential part of our everyday lived experience. These beliefs and values should be manifest in all our conversations, actions and interactions. Be unafraid to speak up for principled behaviour!

VII. Preparing to Make Your Choice on Election Day

Your first step is to examine the candidates offering to serve as your representative in Parliament. Here are some questions you should ask about all candidates:

If a candidate has been serving in Parliament for the last five years you will want to examine how well this person has done in representing the issues of his or her constituency in Parliament. Has the candidate been accessible to constituents over the past five years? Have there been open channels of communication to learn of community needs? It must be noted that a Member of Parliament is not always able to secure the backing of Parliament colleagues to effect legislation, but, as a Member of Parliament, can speak up and keep Parliament and the general public aware of the needs of the community.

In preparing to exercise your precious right to vote, you must inform yourself. Gather as much information as you can. Listen respectfully to all sides. Search out the facts. Reflect on the records of all who present themselves to represent you. Then act according to what your reason and your principled heart tell you.

VIII. Conclusion

It has been said:

“A renewed commitment to faithful citizenship can help heal the wounds of our nation [and our world]… In times of terror and war, of global insecurity and economic uncertainty, of disrespect for human life and human dignity, we need to return to basic moral principles. Politics cannot be merely about [the party line], the search for partisan advantage, or political contributions. It should be about fundamental moral choices. How do we protect human life and dignity? How do we fairly share the blessings and burdens of the challenges we face? What kind of nation do we want to be? What kind of world do we want to shape?” (USCCB “Responsible Citizenship”)

Above all, remember that the X you mark on Election Day will help to determine the quality of life in our commonwealth for the next five years. You will be voting for the dignity of our country in the eyes of the international community, the safety of the communities in which we live, a fair sharing of opportunities and resources that does not privilege the socially and economically prominent above the poor and the disabled. We, as men and women of faith, will be voting to raise up strong and fearless voices to advance the cause of justice, to preserve human life, to defend the institution of marriage and the family, to protect and preserve the environment, our heritage and our culture.

Finally, let us be sure that, in making our choices, we do so prayerfully and consistent with our faith. Be strong in the faith and unafraid to demand and to strive for the return of principles and civility in public life.

May God continue to bless and to prosper our beloved Commonwealth of The Bahamas.  I take this opportunity to extend to each of you a Blessed Easter.

 

Devotedly yours in Christ,

The Most Reverend Patrick C. Pinder, STD, CMG

Archbishop of Nassau