“We affirm our belief in the Commonwealth as a force for good in the world.”
These were the words of Secretary-General Patricia Scotland, who today gave a reading to the Commonwealth Service, a multi-faith service for Commonwealth Day 2017.
The Westminster Abbey service was attended by The Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, and around 800 schoolchildren and young people, including flagbearers from the association’s 52 countries.
In her Affirmation, themed around peace-building, the Secretary-General spoke of the Commonwealth’s contribution to supporting social progress, advancing democracy and building economic resilience and prosperity.
“We cherish the spirit of respect and understanding that inspires us as ‘A Peace-building Commonwealth’ to work for the eradication of all forms of violence from homes and communities, and with goodwill and cordiality for the comity of nations,” she said.
“We stand in solidarity alongside the vulnerable and marginalised, and all who live in fear of discrimination or oppression, pledging to uphold their rights to justice and dignity.”
The Commonwealth Service saw readings by Joseph Muscat, Prime Minister of Malta and Chair-in-Office of the Commonwealth, and Achaleke Christian Leke, Commonwealth Young Person of the Year, a peace advocate and former victim of radicalisation and violence.
In his speech, Prime Minister Muscat said, "There can be no solid and lasting international and national peace and reconciliation unless it is built on the consciousness of millions of individuals who value their own individual dignity, whose homes enjoy the domestic peace based on equality and mutual respect of the genders, and is free of domestic violence where women and children are most of the time the main victims."
"At a time when we may be tempted to despair and to give up, it is imperative that we remember that peace and reconciliation are objectively possible. They can be achieved," he added.
Guests from the world of sport and entertainment in attendance at the service included British Prime Minister Theresa May, Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill, Anna Meares, Annie Lennox and Geri Horner. The service was broadcast live by the BBC World Service.
Performers included George the Poet, a British spoken word artist and social commentator of Ugandan heritage, Australian musician and singer Cody Simpson, Canadian soprano Measha Brueggergosman, and Maltese poet and author Dr Immanuel Mifsud.
The service was organised by the Council of Commonwealth Societies and the Royal Commonwealth Society.
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Earlier in the day, The Queen set the Gold Coast 2018 Queen’s Baton Relay in motion, by placing a message to the Commonwealth and its athletes inside the distinctive baton at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace.
The baton will travel through all Commonwealth member countries over 388 days, covering 230,000 kilometres to its final destination, the opening ceremony of the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games.
In her Commonwealth Day message, The Queen said, “The cornerstones on which peace is founded are, quite simply, respect and understanding for one another. Working together, we build peace by defending the dignity of every individual and community.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was among the many government and community leaders who issued Commonwealth Day statements. In his message, the Prime Minister invited fellow citizens to learn more about the shared history and values that bind the association’s peoples.
“The Commonwealth is a champion of democracy, freedom, sustainable development, the rule of law, and human rights, especially the rights of women and girls. As a member of the Commonwealth, Canada remains committed to protecting and promoting these values,” he said.
Prime Minister of Jamaica, Andrew Holness, said, "Despite the wide divergences, Commonwealth countries have worked together effectively over the decades to promote peace, and to champion democracy, human rights, the rule of law, and the social and economic development of member countries."
"Commonwealth Day 2017 is a reminder to all Jamaicans not to allow our differences to define our existence. It is a reminder to pursue peace and understanding rather than violence, in resolving conflicts."
President of The Seychelles, Danny Faure, said, “Seychelles is proud to be a longstanding member of the Commonwealth and fervently believes in the spirit of commonwealth – that of toiling together so that we can reap the benefits. By joining other countries around the world in marking Commonwealth Day, we are paying tribute to the strong partnership among Commonwealth members that is vital to our future - a common future with prosperity for all.
At a Commonwealth Day celebration in Tonga, Deputy Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni said, “Over the years, the Commonwealth has worked arduously to increase the awareness of the vulnerabilities of Small Island Developing States (SIDS), and remains at the head of policy research and advocacy to assist small states, such as Tonga, to build resilience, access financing, alleviate debt burdens and devise strategies to respond to natural disasters and the impacts of climate change.”
“In commemorating this auspicious occasion, I am happy to invite all Tongans to support the initiative in promoting a peace-building society, as we work towards eradicating social and economic inequality, and promoting all to maximise their fullest potential.”
Nigeria’s Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, said, “Commonwealth ideals and principles aim at promoting international peace, security and understanding. Towards this end, the association provides channels for member countries and their peoples to interact, cooperate and work together to eliminate wars, fight diseases, poverty and hunger, wipe out ignorance and illiteracy, promote democracy, protect the environment and inculcate respect for human rights, human dignity and human values.”
Schools around the world marked Commonwealth Day with dedicated lessons and assemblies about the Commonwealth’s values and history. In Ghana, Ms Bruce-Muller, Vice Principal of the Ghana International School, said this year’s theme of ‘A Peace-building Commonwealth’ could not have resonated more with her school’s motto, “Understanding each other.”
“We promote internationalism and inter-culturalism. We have students here from all over the world…Part of our ethos as an institution is communicating that we are a diverse world - it is important that we understand each other,” she said.