Fellow citizens,

Tomorrow is Easter Sunday, a day when, as one Christian writer described it, there is a change from a spiritual fast to a spiritual feast.

It is not traditional that the President issues a televised Easter address, but that is perhaps the least unusual feature of this period during which Christians will commemorate the most significant event of their faith—the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is the apparent incongruity of a celebration of the holy, joyous, hopeful season of Easter at a time when the novel Coronavirus has us frightened, confined and uncertain about the future that causes me to deviate from the usual practice of simply issuing a written message.

Across the world, people are struggling to adapt to the conditions and limitations necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Lives and livelihoods are under assault and with little reaction or preparation time we all must adjust our way of living to a new, hopefully impermanent, normal. In Trinidad and Tobago, to date, one hundred and nine people have tested positive for the virus and sadly, eight of our citizens have died without our being able to give them “a proper send-off”. Businesses have closed to limit the spread of the virus and thousands have lost their source of income with no assurance that they can pick up where they left off in the near future, or at all.

And, in the middle of this fraught situation has come Easter with its cry Alleluia, He has risen!—a celebration of victory over the grave and the promise of eternal hope and salvation.  This year, the faithful will have to congregate virtually via livestreaming and other technological conveniences, as, except in certain circumstances, gatherings of more than five are prohibited, even with social distancing. But since it is the people and not the building that is the true church, the celebration though different, ought not to be diminished. This unusually quiet long weekend is the ideal time for reflection on the fact that Christ’s legacy of love and sacrifice is the perfect blueprint for our conduct in the days and months ahead.

If we are to survive this ordeal, we must summon many of the qualities exhibited by the parties in the Easter narrative—compassion, empathy, obedience, selflessness, faith and trust.

For me, the signal advantage of Trinidad and Tobago’s multiplicity of religious holidays is that they serve to remind us, as a nation, of some universal truths that need to be brought back to mind from time to time.

Even as we stay at home, Trinbagonians will have to find new and innovative ways to mark this season as there will be no Easter bonnet competitions, no church camps, no kite flying in our savannahs, no weekends by the beach and no Buccoo goat race, and the bobolee that we will all have to unite to beat is the novel Coronavirus.

Over the last couple months, we have observed the behaviour of our countrymen—the good, the bad and the mind-boggling. There have been amazing acts of generosity, special concern for the elderly and differently-abled, and conscientious citizens have been closely following the official guidelines. On the other hand, we have seen instances of mean-spiritedness, greed and selfishness, a willingness to risk granny’s life for a box of KFC and wilful disobedience of the very directives meant to ensure the health and safety of all of us—For this latter group,  like ‘stick break in their ears’ and their inconsiderate behaviour is making life more difficult for the rest of us.

In this holy season, the overarching biblical command to love our neighbours as ourselves has to be translated from superficial platitude to positive and practical acts of care and charity, among them—volunteering to make a run to the supermarket or pharmacy for the elderly or disabled, delivering food to those unable to cook or provide for themselves; running interference in a potential domestic violence situation.  All of these are acts of love. 

Perhaps the most challenging injunction is social distancing.  It is the very antithesis of what we are as a people.  It is in our nature to gather as a family, to hug and kiss one another, to stick up close to the person ahead of us in the line, to ‘buss a lime’ for any reason or no reason at all.  That is who we are.  But these are not normal times and we must act differently, continually reminding ourselves and each other of the need to observe six feet of separation.  I am quite sure that we can find different, new and uniquely Trinbagonian ways of expressing our warm and friendly ethos.

Last Thursday, in homes and offices we stood outside and clapped in recognition and appreciation of the sacrifices of our healthcare workers, members of the protective services, media practitioners, utility and sanitation workers and the many individuals working assiduously behind the scenes to maintain some vestige of normalcy.

This wave of national applause contained an implied promise of solidarity and support, which I hope did not evaporate as soon as we went back inside.  It is our duty to ensure that the sacrifices of these critical workers are not negated by irresponsible conduct on our part; their efforts cannot be in vain. 

As Jesus’ time drew near, he said to his disciples, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”  These words bring to mind the service rendered by our medical professionals and others who are working long and exhausting hours for our good and in so doing risking their lives and possibly those of their loved ones.

It is said that circumstances are rulers of the weak; but they are the instruments of the wise. Let us not be passive victims of this COVID-19 outbreak, but rather use the opportunity as a catalyst for change, emerging on the other side as better human beings. As on the first Easter when sorrow turned into joy and mourning into gladness, we must ensure that for us individually, and collectively our COVID-19 experience is a transformative one, changing us from our often selfish, own-way, ill-disciplined selves into a more considerate, responsible, temperate people.

Present crisis notwithstanding, may love, joy and peace fill your hearts and homes and I wish the national community a safe, healthy and happy Easter.