Celebrating religious freedom in Jamaica - Thousands trek to National Arena for festival
Erica Virtue, Senior Gleaner Writer
At 10:30 a.m. yesterday, it was standing room only inside the National Arena, and the thousands gathered were not there for a political rally, a reggae concert or a sporting event.
Instead, it was goose-pimpled gospel singing, praise and worship, and the gospel of Christians that drew persons from different religions, but mainly Christians from the Seventh-day Adventist denomination, to the country's first-ever Festival of Religious Freedom held under the theme 'Our Right ... Our Freedom ... Let's Celebrate'.
Organisers said representatives of all 730 Seventh-day Adventist congregations in Jamaica were present to celebrate the level of religious freedom in Jamaica, when across the world it had become increasingly difficult for individuals to practise their religions in peace.
JAMAICA A GOOD EXAMPLE
Dr Ganoune Diop, director of the United Nations Relations for Religious Freedom at the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Washington, DC, USA, said Jamaica was an example to the rest of the world for its respect and tolerance of religious freedom.
"All religious freedom depends on freedom of worship. And Jamaica is sending a message to countries that all religious faiths can cohabit. Today is a celebration, and a thank you to the Government and people of Jamaica. It is a privilege to practise one's religion in Jamaica," Diop told The Sunday Gleaner minutes after his presentation titled 'Theology of Religious Freedom'.
He said religious freedom and practices were ordered by God and were created from a "heavenly intervention" in the beginning. According to Diop, even in the beginning, Adam and Eve had the choice to listen or not, and that freedom has lived through the ages.
"Even the disciples were given the choice to freely follow or leave, because Jesus came to promote religious liberty. That liberty is based on human dignity, secured and grounded on human beings created in God's image," stated Diop.
Nigel Coke, communication, public affairs and religious liberty director for the Adventist Church in Jamaica, said the rally would be used to launch the local National Religious Liberty Association, the international branch of which is grounded on a non-sectarian and non-governmental approach and is recognised by the United Nations.
"It's an organisation that defends the rights and freedoms of religious practices everywhere," said Coke.
He was careful to point out that it was not a "religious trade union" but it would provide representation and defend the rights and freedom of individuals who felt their religious freedoms were being violated.