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Leela Ramdeen

One of the joys of being a T&T citizen is the fact that we have learned over the years to embrace and respect the rich diversity of our people who have come to T&T from many parts of the world—not as empty vessels, but with their different cultures, traditions, religions, languages and so on. This diversity is a source of strength.

As I wrote in a book on tourism years ago: “T&T is a model of cultural and religious harmony.” Many of our public holidays here are religious holidays. What a wonderful opportunity we have to join in celebrating each other’s religious festivals and to build a culture of tolerance and inclusion. I am no less a Catholic when I participate in celebrating Divali, the festival of lights, on Sunday October 27. Having grown up in a home with a Hindu father and Catholic mother, I learned early on that once I was rooted in my faith, I could do as Gandhi said and let “the cultures of all lands be blown about my house.”

During his last journey to India in 1999, Pope John Paul II stated that the “Catholic Church wants to enter ever more deeply into dialogues with the religions of the world. She sees dialogue as an act of love which has its roots in God himself. ‘God is love’, proclaims the New Testament, ‘and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him...Let us love, then, because he has loved us first...no one who fails to love the brother whom he sees can love God whom he has not seen.’” Today the Catholic Church continues to promote inter-religious dialogue.

Years ago, when I was a student at Hugh Wooding Law School, my friend, Ossie, from Dominica, and I celebrated Divali with other students there, by telling the story from the Ramayana of Ram and Sita, and of the meaning of Divali. There are other significant meanings related to this festival. Like me, Ossie is a Catholic. He had never read about this epic “story’’ of Ram and Sita and during our rehearsal for our presentation, he agreed with me that many of the moral, social and spiritual values that are reflected in this “story’’ are universal. For example: the right way of living, love, respect, duty, devotion, compassion, humility; how to be a good father, son, brother, and leader; how to distinguish between right and wrong. And the themes are familiar to all of us—the triumph of good over evil, light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance.

Once again, I shall miss not being able to light deyas with my father, Balgobin Ramdeen, this year. He died in 2016. For many years some of the Holy Faith Sisters would come to his home for Divali and join us for a meal. We would all help him light deyas around the house and then sit around the table to enjoy my sister’s cooking. Kamala is a boss at cooking and for Divali she excels. She will be feeding the multitudes in London this year.

Given the many challenges we face, let us promote unity in diversity, and build on what is common among us. In his address to an inter-religious and ecumenical gathering in Sri Lanka in 2015, Pope Francis said: “As experience has shown for (inter-religious) dialogue and encounter to be effective, it must be grounded in a full and forthright presentation of our respective convictions. Certainly, such dialogue will accentuate how varied our beliefs, traditions and practices are. But if we are honest in presenting our convictions, we will be able to see more clearly what we hold in common.

“New avenues will be opened for mutual esteem, cooperation and indeed friendship… the fostering of… unity is a noble task which is incumbent upon all who have at heart the good of the nation, and indeed the whole human family… For the sake of peace, religious beliefs must never be allowed to be abused in the cause of violence and war. We must be clear and unequivocal in challenging our communities to live fully the tenets of peace and coexistence found in each religion, and to denounce acts of violence when they are committed.”

May the celebration of Divali fill our hearts with love and respect for each other as we embrace our common humanity and strive to live in peace and harmony with each other. Happy Divali to our Hindu brothers and sisters.

— Leela Ramdeen is chair, CCSJ

and director, CREDI

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