This Sunday is Emancipation Day, and Trinidad and Tobago retains the singular honour of being the first country in the world to have declared a public holiday in honour of this event in 1985.
Ironically, while this day is usually commemorated with parades, public events and an Emancipation Village, freedom to do so has been curtailed by an invisible microbe that has already resulted in the deaths of more than 1,000 citizens.
The Israelites had the experience of both freedom and slavery, and now as they enjoyed another taste of freedom on their way to the Promised Land, they grumbled about their living and dietary conditions.
Their desert experience is not unlike many who today still call for the return of the Queen as our Monarch and the retention of the Privy Council as our final Court of Appeal, resigning themselves to a belief that, devoid of the alleged superiority invested in our colonisers, we are incapable of satisfactorily managing our own affairs.
Today, even as we grapple with the pandemic and the imminent arrival of the Delta variant, there are many who argue that the government-imposed restrictions are unnecessary curtailments on our freedom. To this is added the dilemma of choosing to be vaccinated or not.
In what is truly a battle between individual rights and collective responsibility, there is the recurring demand for signs that the battle is being won. Signs of vaccine efficacy, economic growth, personal responsibility, tangible government assistance, and even signs of a return to normalcy, figure prominently in every conversation.
There can be no doubt that each citizen is invested with an inalienable right to freedom of choice, a choice which includes the right to choose whether to be vaccinated. Equally, there can be no doubt that those rights are not absolute and cannot be exercised without consideration for the rights of others.
Drawing on centuries of Catholic social teaching, Pope Francis has repeatedly called on countries to avoid the virus of closed nationalism which sees vaccines only being made available to the richest nations, and on individuals, to resist the temptation to place the laws of the market or intellectual property above the laws of love and the health of humanity.
Today, the Catholic News again emphasises, with both Pope Francis and Archbishop Jason Gordon, the call on all citizens to see their acceptance of the choice to be vaccinated, not as an unnecessary incursion into their personal rights and freedoms, but rather as an ethical obligation that places the good of the collective citizenry over individualism.
Today’s gospel challenges us to see only Jesus and the Eucharist as that which will bring true freedom and true life. Just as following Jesus entails tremendous sacrifice that ultimately results in triumph over adversity and even death, so too are we being called today to make that sacrifice, even at a personal cost, to deny ourselves for the greater good. The freedoms we enjoy today, including the freedom to choose whether to be vaccinated, are the result of sacrifices made by those who went before us.
Those freedoms are signs of both resilience and sacrifice and must lead us to an acceptance that freedom is never without cost.