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HomeNewsHomily delivered by Catholic priest – Fr Sean Doggett, National Heroes Day

Homily delivered by Catholic priest – Fr Sean Doggett, National Heroes Day

I am privileged and honoured to have been asked to preach on this very significant occasion in the history of Grenada. We are preparing to remember, to commemorate, to celebrate our history, with very special emphasis on the period that began on the 7 March 1973.

To do justice to that theme we must bear in mind the fact that history is a continuum. Grenada’s history did not start with 1973 or 1983. The events of those years grew out of and were the results of the history of the centuries that went before.

I can do no more than just mention the improvement in the lives of agricultural workers that resulted from the disturbances of the 1950s and 60s. Nor can I fail to praise the many great achievements of the period of the Revolution. Our International Airport and our National Insurance Scheme are but two shining examples.

In the forty years that have elapsed since October 1983 successive governments of both political parties have achieved much. The Grenada of today is very different from the Grenada I met when I landed at Pearls Airport in February 1983. Yes, there is still poverty. True, unemployment is still a problem, but we must acknowledge the rise in the standard of living and the greatly improved infrastructure.

This day has been designated National Heroes Day. A “hero” is a person who is admired or idealised for courage, outstanding achievements or noble qualities.

A “victim” is a person harmed, injured or killed because of a crime, an accident or other event.

A “perpetrator “or “criminal” is a person who carries out a harmful, illegal or immoral act.

The epithets (the labels), “hero”, “victim,” “criminal”, are powerful weapons in the propaganda war that is a very important element in any conflict. The wars in Palestine and Ukraine today illustrate this. The labels that stick, are those applied by the victors.

Jesus Christ himself was condemned as a criminal by the civil and religious authorities of his day. He was certainly the victim of appalling injustice and cruelty. Today is the Hero, worshipped by those of us who call ourselves Christians.

In the First Letter of John chapter 1 verse 10 we read “If we say we have never sinned we make God a liar and his word has no place in us.”

In the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans Chapter 3 verse 23 we are reminded that we have “all sinned and lack the glory of God.”

Each one of us is or has been at some time a perpetrator. I, here and now, humbly ask for forgiveness for the hurt that I have caused by my actions, by my words or my failure to act when I should have done so.

At some point in our lives each one of us has been a victim, experiencing grief, pain, loss. We acknowledge the grief and pain of those who lost loved ones on the 19th October and on the 25th and 26th October 1983, Grenadian, Cuban and American.

I have no doubt that, at some time and at least in some way, most of you here present are or have been heroes, sacrificing self to care for others, going well beyond the call of duty, such as responding without hesitation to the Covid 19 crisis, opening new possibilities and providing instruction to the young inmates of His Majesty’s Prison by setting up and running an education programme. Single parents and grandparents being father and mother to children, are also heroes. The courage, the outstanding achievements and noble qualities of unsung heroes must be acknowledged today.

Jesus Christ, He who is to judge the living and the dead came to bring forgiveness and in his dealings with sinners, with those condemned He always sought to restore to them the dignity of children of God.

I return to the Gospel text:

Jesus and his disciples were about to undergo a terrible experience of separation, suffering, and death. He said to his disciples, and he says to us today. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You trust in God, trust also in me.” He spoke of going forward to His Father, to a place of happiness and peace and when Doubting Thomas said “We don’t know where you are going so how can we know the way” Jesus said “I am the way, the truth and the life.”

When Jesus spoke of “the Way” He meant a way of living, a way of relating with others, a way of doing things, a way of thinking, of speaking and behaving. If we consider ourselves Christian, each of us individually, must take a fresh look at the way we are living, behaving and relating to others.

On this unique occasion, let us also look long and hard at the way our history has unfolded over the past fifty years and together, decide on the way we are to go as we move forward towards the celebration of One Hundred Years of Independence.

Casting our minds back to the events leading up to 7th of February 1973, we must ask if the way Independence was achieved is a way, we can be proud of as a nation.

Geographically, Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique are islands. But in the 1970s and 80s, in the world of the Cold War and the Iron Curtain, the powerful countries to the north, with conflicting ideologies demanded alignment with one or the other. The choices made then were the dominating influence in the events that followed.

In the world of today, the world of TikTok and Artificial Intelligence, no country can be an island. The all-pervasive power of social media is influencing our culture, our faith, our deepest-held values, our morality. The minds of our children are fed mostly stupidness, and violence on the screens they are given to keep them quiet even before they can walk.

Reflecting on the 13 of March 1979 and the years of the Revolution, yes, we travelled a long way and achieved much but we reached a time and a place of disaster and death on 19th of October 1983.

The days and weeks and months that followed were a time when Truth suffered seriously. (I recall the actions of the Psychological-Operations Unit (Psy-Ops) of the U.S military).

The absence of the bodies of Maurice Bishop and the others remains a great barrier to the achievement of closure and healing of the pain and grief of their relatives and friends.

From the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission 2006 we know that on the night of 19th October the bodies were taken from Fort Rupert to Camp Fedon where they were placed in a trench and an unsuccessful attempt was made to burn them. The trench was then filled in with earth and the bodies remained there until 9th November 1983 when they were exhumed by the U.S. Army Graves Registration Team, which “placed them in four body bags and stored them in a temporary morgue facility without refrigeration.”  An officer of the Jamaican Armed Forces who accompanied the team testified that the bodies were partially decomposed but complete.

The U.S. Army Graves Registration Team retained custody of the remains until the 10th of November when they were delivered to a team from the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology at the Anatomy Laboratory of St. George’s University. The Institute of Pathology Team’s report states that the four body bags contained not complete bodies but commingled body parts. “The skeletal trauma appears to be of the crushing type… compatible with the history of being overrun by vehicles.” (I quote from the report of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology)

In the years that followed the wild speculations around the question of the location of the remains and the absence of an answer meant the recurrence of pain and the revival of the grief of family members and friends.

I quote again from the report of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology “The personnel of the U.S. Army Graves Registration Team maintained custody of the remains and reportedly sent the remains to Otway’s Funeral Home.”

In 2012 the Conferences of Churches, with funding from the Government of Grenada and an overseas agency organised a search for the remains, conducted by a team of forensic anthropologists from the University of Maine. They searched the area of the Wilberforce Cemetery indicated by a retired employee who had worked for Mr. Leslie Bailey burying human remains that he had collected from the Anatomy Lab around that time. That search was not successful.

Where then is the truth about the disposal of the bodies? I believe it is to be found in the opinion of Dr. Bob Jordan, the person in charge of the Anatomy Lab at that time, who suggested that they were incinerated in the incinerator attached to the Anatomy Laboratory of St. George’s University.

Searching for Truth, asking for it and speaking it to power takes courage and may have painful consequences. The truth itself may be painful and hard to accept but only the Truth can set us free.

When we speak of LIFE what first comes to my mind is how much more materially prosperous life is now for many people than it was 50 years ago. Materially we are better off but Family life leaves much to be desired. Political parties have platforms and plans. Governments have policies and projects for housing, education, health and welfare. These must be constantly monitored, critiqued and, of course, implemented, all aimed at improving the life of our people, especially the neediest and most vulnerable.

In our first Reading we heard of the Spirit of the Lord sending the prophet Isaiah to bring good news to the afflicted. The Prophet Isaiah is not speaking for himself. What we heard is God’s word to all of us here today. We are sent to bring good news to the afflicted, to soothe the broken-hearted, to proclaim this Golden Jubilee “a year of favour from Yahweh.”

Must our political life be always confrontation? Can we not aspire to a way of consensus and support? 

We like to speak of ourselves as a Christian country, not just tolerant of other faiths but supportive of them. Can we resolve in our religious life to be less self-righteous, less denominational and more appreciative of the core Christian values that we all aspire to?

What of Social life? The older ones among us may remember story-telling and games in the light of the full moon, homemade music, played by real human beings on violins, and quattros, not imported and played on electronic devices at a volume damaging to our hearing, – masquerades with meaning, not a competition in vulgarity and nudity.

Where are we going? To what do we aspire? What are we building? What is the destiny we want to reach?

The Spirit of the Lord is the creativity, empowerment, courage, energy, enthusiasm and generosity that we need to overcome the pains and divisions of the past and to move forward with confidence, gained from the experiences, both good and bad of the past.

Ever conscious of God and proud of our heritage, may we with faith and courage, with hands and hearts in unity, continue as one people, one family, striving to reach that fullness of life that is our destiny.

May God continue to bless Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique.

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