KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves was so moved during his visit to the site where Jesus Christ is believed to have been born that he kissed the ground there – in two places – on Christmas Eve, he told reporters on Wednesday.
Gonsalves visited Bethlehem, Georgia and Azerbaijan during a 15-day trip over the Christmas and New Year holidays.
He attended midnight mass at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem as a guest of Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas.
“It was the first time since I was a teenager that I heard a mass entirely in Latin. It was a beautiful and spiritually uplifting event. I was really touched by it,” said Gonsalves, 66, who followed the service through an English brochure.
“… you go and see the cave, you see the manger, you see the spot where Mary gave birth to Christ and … where he was put in swaddling clothes. I tell you, I was very moved to be at the place where Christ was born. And, as a Christian believer and coming from a Christian community, it touches you and to know here is where it all started. From these humble beginning,” Gonsalves said, adding that one-third of the world’s population are Christians.
“And that is where it all started. I don’t like to talk about these things publicly because I don’t like to wear my faith on my sleeve … and particularly when you are a politician and so many people try to use the church and faith for political purposes, which I have never done and I don’t want to do,” he said in recounting his experience.
“But, I was moved to kiss the very ground, on both sides — where he was actually born and just across where he was put in the manger –and to kneel and pray, including praying for people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and especially for the poor and disadvantaged across the world. It moved me very, very deeply,” Gonsalves further said.
“And I will learn, as I live the remaining days of my life, the extent to which that has impacted on me as a human being; because it is a process. But I can tell you, it impacted greatly on me,” he further said.
Gonsalves said that he saw in Jericho the sycamore tree from which Christ told Zacchaeus to come down.
“You know, you feel these things, you live in them, it’s truly wonderful,” he said.
PM responds to the ‘holier than thou’
Gonsalves further defended himself against newspaper commentators “who believe they are holier than everybody else” and questioned his trip to Bethlehem.
“‘I must reform myself. I am a hypocrite’,” he said.
“Am I a hypocrite to go to a place of worship; the place where Christ was born? The persons who write, why are they sitting in judgement of me? Are they holier than thou? Am I answerable to them or am I answerable to God? Are they so dogmatic in their beliefs that they have set themselves up now as the judge?” he said.
Gonsalves said that persons who behave like that might eventually question whether God is the judge.
“… I don’t have to wear my beliefs on my sleeve. Maybe when I am finished with this job, but, for the moment, as a sinner, I am in quest of redemption,” said Gonsalves who has lived among monks in Trinidad since coming to office in 2001.
“Those who are already so holy … they do not even know what true holiness is because if they knew it, they wouldn’t behave so holier than thou,” he said.