Georgetown, Guyana – (May 16, 2018)President David Granger said that social cohesion rests on a foundation of religious and cultural liberty, a recognition of the plural character of the nation and the promotion of greater respect for others. He also noted that the church has a vital role to play in fostering friendly relations among the faithful by working to ensure social cohesion, particularly in the plural societies, which exist in most, if not all, Caribbean jurisdictions.The Head of State made these remarks at the Central Seventh-Day Adventist (SDA) Church, where he declared open, a five-day Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Workshop and Convention under the theme “Peaceful coexistence: the challenge for diversity”.

“The Church in the Caribbean has a vital role to play in ensuring peaceful coexistence by safeguarding the right to religious freedom and by fostering respect towards all. The Church, by recognising all races, religions and cultures, has a sacred mission to reach out to the marginalised and excluded… Caribbean societies have managed to enjoy relative social harmony among its diverse peoples because of two main factors, respect for each other’s human rights and recognition of our religious and cultural diversity…,” he said.

Speaking to the theme of ‘peaceful coexistence’, the President explained that social cohesion, which has been a key area of focus for his Administration, is rooted in respect for the racial, religious and social groups in society, particularly of minority groups. This respect he said, expands the space for diversity by accepting differences so that all can see themselves as equal members of society. It is for this reason that the Government designated special days to celebrate and pay homage to various ethnic groups that make up the Guyanese society. “Social cohesion is concerned with combatting exclusion and marginalisation and creating a sense of belonging for people, regardless of their race or religion… Social Cohesion helps to promote respect for differences among various social groups. It acknowledges that, left unattended, those differences could threaten mutual trust, weaken people’s sense of belonging and degenerate into antagonism and hostility,” President Granger said.

Recognising the cosmopolitan characteristic of the Caribbean region owing to its colonial history, the Guyanese Head of State called on the church to continue to coexist peacefully and to strive to better respond to the challenge of diversity. He added that Caribbean Christians can contribute to the construction of socially cohesive communities among their ethnically diverse peoples.

The President reminded the congregation of the rights and freedoms to which every Guyanese citizen is entitled under the Constitution with regard to religious freedom. “The Constitutionproscribes discrimination and vilification on the grounds of religion. Constitutional protection of the right to religious liberty ensures that persons do not feel marginalised or vilified because of their religion,” he said.

Similar sentiments were expressed by Chairman of the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO), Pastor Ronald McGarrell, who said that for humanity to be happy and coexist peacefully, the struggle of modern ideologies, cultures and races must be overcome by interreligious understanding and spiritual harmony. “We must respect the traditions of other religions and to do everything we can to prevent conflict and discord,” he said.

Meanwhile, Presidentof the Caribbean Union Conference of SDA Church, Dr. Kern Tobias said that diversity is one of the world’s greatest challenges in the 21st century, but noted that the SDA church can offer a peaceful model for coexistence.

The Convention, which concludes on the Sabbath on Saturday, was organised by the Caribbean Union Conference of SDA Church, the Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Department and the Caribbean Religious Liberty Association. It has attracted the participation of SDA missions from St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, St. Lucia, Suriname, Grenada, the Leeward Islands and Barbados.

Minister within the Ministry of Health, Dr. Karen Cummings also attended the event.

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