I extend to all of you warm Christian greeting and welcome each one of you to King’s House. You honour me today by allowing me to host you for this very important and epochal meeting and conversation about our involvement in The Way Forward for a better Jamaica.  Thank you so much for accepting the invitation of our church leaders and for allowing me the opportunity to make a few remarks so that we can put this meeting in context.

On February 28 of this year, the Most Honourable Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition joined me in issuing a “Call to all Jamaicans for Reflection and Reconciliation“.  We urged that all Jamaicans use the Easter season for contemplation and reflection on the state of our nation.

We trusted that this would engender consideration of possible initiatives which families, communities, churches and other social groups are doing and could employ to address the moral dilemma in which we find ourselves. At the heart of this plea was our hope that, under God, our people would come together and help move the nation forward.

The initiative for this appeal was prompted by the constant pleas from citizens and religious groups for the civil leadership to proclaim days of fasting and prayer for the nation. I know that you who are here today would understand that since our form of government is not a theocracy, neither the Leader of Government nor I myself have the facility as did the Old Testament Leaders. However, I am convinced that it is in the best interest of our nation, for this door to be opened to the Church, with the hope that in this carpe diem moment, it will seize the day and keep the momentum going.

It is in this vein that church leaders and heads of Christian organizations are assembled here today to brainstorm and to posit ideas and action plans to move forward as a united, mighty army to address some of the pressing social ills that are plaguing us.

I do not know the extent to which the Church shared the concerns raised in the Joint Statement, with their membership. There was rather limited attention given to it by the media, but I must thank TBC Radio for having broadcast a recording of the Statement throughout the Easter period.

The Most Rev. Charles Dufour, Catholic Archbishop of Kingston, kindly sent me a copy of his Easter encyclical to the faithful and all Christians in Jamaica. In it, he spoke passionately to the fact that the condition of crime and violence must not numb us to take as nothing, the heinous crimes which are occurring daily.  He reminded Catholics of their duty “to throw themselves into the fray to understand better what is happening and to move forward to solutions and reconciliation”. He alerted them to his plan to convene forums for dialogue in local parish churches, leading to an understanding of how best to act and called for them to “become part of a journey to end violence and heal relationships.

As we move forward, my brothers and sisters, in one accord, we must work assiduously to be all-inclusive, listen to each other, complement initiatives that are already in progress and affirm and support those working to build our nation.  We will even need to think outside of the box and design actions or projects heretofore not implemented.

In our efforts, I plead with you to leave your proselytizing, theological differences and contentions and other biases out of the equation. We need people to believe that that the Church is truly concerned about their wellbeing, about family and about community strengthening. And then they will know that we are Christians by our love.

I encourage you to collaborate with someone with whom you never associated before and experience the joy of knowing that we are not really as different as we think. Together as leaders in the faith community, let us demonstrate the humility to which the Lord calls us, ‘to preferring one another.’ Let us work with the government also and all our leaders to achieve the best for our country.

I desire that in the course of our discussions this afternoon, ideas will emerge as to how best the Church can take the lead in steering Jamaica back to paths of truth, peace and good neighbourliness. Many of you are already using the media, in addition to the great work being done by our Christian radio stations along with LOVE, NCU and Power of Faith Ministries TV.   I wonder whether we could contemplate joint sponsorship of programmes for fostering Christian values and attitudes, in ways which could grab the attention of our young people and adults alike. Perhaps we should begin to think of new ways for more effectively using print, electronic media and social media. For churches and denominations which have websites, you might want to consider enhancing them for greater impact on the unchurched.

My role as Governor-General allows me various avenues through which I may promote positive messages to the nation.  One such is the Governor-General’s Programme for Excellence, under which the “I Believe” Initiative and the Governor-General’s Achievement Awards sub-programme are implemented.

This year I travel across Jamaica for meetings with Justices of the Peace, many of whom are your members. I seek to motivate them to blanket the island with the values and principles of the Programme for Excellence and then to be role models for the excellence we wish to inculcate in the hearts of our people. My hope is that each Custos, each Justice of the Peace, each Pastor will be convincing messengers that there is nothing wrong with Jamaica that cannot be fixed by what is right with Jamaica”.

Today, as you heard the passion in Reverend Galbarith’s prayer, is a very significant moment for convening this meeting.  It is May Day. It is a symbolic date for this effort to unite our Christian family to give leadership in the struggle to take Jamaica back from the grip of crime and the shroud of negativity.

Thousands of years ago, May 1 was the spring festival celebrating earth’s renewal. A century ago May Day was linked with the worker’s struggle for social and economic rights and later became accepted as International Labour Day.  The third meaning of May-day is the international radio distress call used by ships and aircraft. This “May-day” is an English corruption of the French words “M’ aider”, meaning “Help me!”

These three meanings may be relevant to what we seek on this symbolic day to call on the church to unite our Christian family in the struggle to rescue Jamaica from the looming destruction of crime and violence. I repeat!  Our island paradise is suffering from economic stagnation, declining values and is slowly sinking in the Caribbean sea of crime!

Thank you Rev. Pitkin, your colleague leaders of churches and umbrella groups and the NLPB for assembling this forum.

I close on the same note as we did in the Joint Statement issued by the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition and myself: “We stand united in the struggle for Jamaica’s peace, prosperity and safety and for the future of our children.

May God grant us the wisdom beyond ourselves to accomplish this mission!”

I thank you!