(ALC/ACNS ) Christians, Hindus and Muslims gathered at the National Park Stadium in Georgetown, Guyana's on Sunday 11 January for an interfaith service for peace and atonement.
The service came as Guyana totters on the brink of severe political unrest and racial confrontation between the ruling People's Progressive Party (PPP), supported mainly by Hindu and Moslem descendants of immigrants from India and the opposition People's National Congress PNC), which draws most of its support from the country's black Christian population.
Anglican Bishop Randolph George in a message read by his wife Sheila, warned that Guyana is being pushed to the brink of self destruction and chaos by those who see this as the only way to attain their political goals.
"But God calls us to reconciliation and unity", said the Bishop, as he reminded Guyanese of all political and religious persuasions of the simple message that Christ asks of the world and his followers, "I ask you to love one another."
The service came in the wake of the death of security guard caught in the explosion of a grenade thrown at a Television station closely aligned with the ruling PPP and street protests by the opposition PNC which claims that the December 15 national elections which gave victory to the incumbent PPP were massively fraudulent.
After long delays in the announcement of the final results the Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission announced victory of the PPP candidate, 77 year old Janet Jagan, the US born widow of former President Cheddi Jagan who died in office last March of a sudden heart attack.
The 15% margin of victory between the PPP with 55% of the vote and PNC with 41% reflects the margin that Indo-Guyanese who comprise 48% of the population outnumber Afro-Guyanese. Indigenous groups (6%) and people of mixed races (12%) make up the rest of the population, and the results reflect a general trend of the major races voting along racial lines since the early fifties.
While the service united peoples of different races in a country where Hindus and Moslems outnumber Christians, in the days since Sunday, the political situation has continued to deteriorate.
Following a ruling on January 12 by the Guyana High Court that it had no jurisdiction to overturn the declaration of Mrs Jagan as President, groups of mainly Afro Guyanese youths rampaged through the city looting a number of Indo-Guyanese shops and attacking and robbing Indo-Guyanese at random. Opposition leader former President Desmond Hoyte has declared that only fresh elections can keep the country from total chaos and he and his supporters are defying a government ban on street demonstrations.
The Guyana Council of Churches has called for a halt to a series of street protests in Georgetown by the opposition People's National Congress (PNC) alleging fraud in last months elections, and has urged dialogue on a reform of the country's constitution to allow greater participation in the decision making process by opposition groups; the Council also recommended that the constitutional reform should be addressed within the next two years and followed immediately afterwards by the holding of fresh elections.
The church grouping, which includes representation by the main Protestant and Roman Catholic denominations in Guyana, said that the halt in the demonstrations would allow the country to return to normalcy. "We call upon the leaders to exhibit the highest level of statesmanship and willingness to compromise in order to bring about a resolution and reconciliation. Political parties must be willing to sacrifice some ground in the interest of the common good of the nation."
In a separate statement Anglican Bishop Randolph George and Roman Catholic Bishop Benedict Singh also condemned the "acts of violence, assault, robbery and intimidation that have paralysed public life in the city of Georgetown".
They welcomed an initiative by the Caribbean community, CARICOM, to mediate the crisis and called on all parties to unconditionally accept the results of a proposed independent audit of the results of the election, to set the stage for a process of national reconciliation.
Early on Sunday 18 January, following meetings with political parties, trade unions and church leaders, head of the Caricom mediating team, former Barbadian Foreign Minister Sir Henry Forde announced agreement between the PPP and PNC to end the political crisis.
The PNC will call off confrontational street protests simultaneously with the government's lifting its ban on public meetings in the capital. Both parties have agreed to accept the findings of an audit of the election results to be conducted by a Caricom nominated body.
A broadbased Constitutional reform Commission including members from political parties, labour and religious organisations and the private sector will submit proposals to entrench guarantees of participation and security to all racial groups in Guyana with new elections under the new constitution to be held in three years.
Recommendations voiced by church groups and now accepted by politicians will now call for close collaboration between Christians, Hindus and Moslems if sustainable peace in this multiracial society is to be achieved.