Stillness in movement
June 26, 2024
Confirmation for three candidates in Tobago
June 26, 2024

The human person is a good…”

By Fr Stephan Alexander
General Manager, CCSJ and AMMR

It was one of those scenes that can’t be unseen. A man, walking down Broadway, with no pants. My mind struggled to process what I was seeing—something odd, unsettling. The man’s demeanour seemed calm, but his condition was alarming: his genitals badly swollen. Despite his obvious distress, he walked on, seemingly unaware or indifferent to his state of undress and discomfort. A nearby taxi driver pointed to the “nasty man”. My mind raced as I questioned myself, was he familiar with this person or was it the nakedness that evoked this descriptor? I waved down a passing police vehicle and drew their attention to the semi-nude man. Then, I continued my journey to work. However, this man remained in my thoughts as I wondered, did the police stop to assist? How would they deal with him? Should I have done more?

The above episode occurred at 9 a.m., June 20, 2024. The person who related the experience to me lamented the fact that it wasn’t the first time she had witnessed a semi-nude person in Port of Spain. She felt unsettled by the sight of the man but also identified a feeling of uneasiness or worry as she imagined how this man may have been treated. Would he be taken for treatment at the general hospital? Or would he be scorned, classified as a pervert, beaten, and sent to St Ann’s?

Instances like these must cause us to consider how we, as a society, safeguard the dignity of individuals who find themselves in such states. This question transcends the immediate shock of encountering someone in distressing circumstances. It speaks to our moral and ethical responsibility to recognise and respect the inherent worth of every human being, regardless of their situation.

Human dignity is not contingent upon appearance, status, or circumstance. It is an immutable quality that demands recognition and protection. The man on Broadway, despite his distressing condition, retained his dignity as a person deserving of respect and compassion. In our increasingly complex world, where poverty, illness, addiction, and mental health issues can ‘seemingly’ strip individuals of their dignity, the call to uphold human dignity becomes more urgent. It requires us to move beyond mere sympathy or concern and into action that affirms the value of every person.

To safeguard human dignity effectively, we must first cultivate empathy—a deep understanding of the challenges and suffering faced by others. Empathy compels us to see beyond outward appearances or behaviours and recognise the humanity that persists despite adversity. It prompts us to ask not only ‘What can be done for this person?’ but also ‘How can we restore their sense of dignity and worth?’ Asking such questions is opposed to our tendency to scorn, rush to judgement or to worsen the person’s distress by shaming them online.

Practical measures are essential. These range from ensuring access to healthcare and social services to advocating for policies that protect the rights of vulnerable populations. Yet, safeguarding human dignity extends beyond institutional responses; it requires a cultural shift towards greater inclusivity and compassion.

The encounter on Broadway underscores the importance of destigmatising mental illness and substance abuse, which often contribute to situations of public distress. Rather than marginalising individuals in such circumstances, we must advocate for policies and interventions that offer support and rehabilitation. This approach not only promotes individual well-being but also strengthens the fabric of our communities.

Central to the safeguarding of human dignity is the principle of solidarity—a commitment to standing with those who are most vulnerable and advocating for their rights. Solidarity challenges us to confront the structural injustices and systemic inequalities that perpetuate conditions of indignity. It demands that we work towards a society where every person, regardless of their circumstances, can live with dignity and respect.

At its core, safeguarding human dignity requires a shift in consciousness—a recognition that our shared humanity obligates us to uphold the dignity of others. It compels us to challenge prejudice and discrimination, whether based on race, gender, socioeconomic status, or any other factor that undermines human worth. We are called to protect the dignity of a drug addicted homeless man in the same way that we would a prominent businesswoman experiencing a mental breakdown.

Ultimately, the story from Broadway serves as a poignant reminder of our collective responsibility to uphold human dignity in all its forms. It challenges us to move beyond superficial judgements and embrace a deeper commitment to compassion and justice. Each of us has the power to make a difference, whether through advocacy, service, or simply by treating others with kindness and respect.

As we reflect on the situation of the man on Broadway, his dignity amidst distress, let’s consider the teaching of Saint Pope John Paul II that, “The human person is a good towards which the only proper attitude is love.” May we strive to embody this love in our actions and attitudes, ensuring that no person is ever stripped of their inherent dignity, regardless of the challenges they may face. May we educate ourselves and emerging generations to become empathetic and socially responsible individuals who possess a deep awareness and understanding of human dignity.


The CCSJ asks for your support. Please donate:

Catholic Commission for Social Justice

Account #: 290 458 025 501

Bank: Republic Bank Ltd.

or you can contact us at: