When The Bahamas became an independent nation in 1973, Drexel Wellington Gomez had already served 11 years as a priest and a full year as a bishop.
He recently celebrated 50 years since his consecration as Lord Bishop of Barbados.
In 1996, he was elected archbishop and primate of the Province of the West Indies and was subsequently elected bishop of the Diocese of The Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands in 1997.
Archbishop Gomez, now 85, has seen a lot in the five decades since he was consecrated.
Gomez, who was born in Bullocks Harbour, the Berry Islands, watched the birth of our nation 49 years ago, and had a front row seat as a spiritual leader in experiencing the highs and lows of nation building, an effort he participated in mightily.
He has never shied away from offering guidance on the issues that impact the Bahamian people, and those in the providences in which he served.
“I believe that the church must always give a Christian perspective on issues that are national issues,” Gomez told National Review on Tuesday.
“As a bishop, I had a commitment that I made at ordination to proclaim the Gospel and I had to be consistent with that oath.”
In spite of the lingering challenges, Gomez pointed to quality of life improvements as among the most significant accomplishments The Bahamas has made since independence.
“I think the greatest [achievement] would be: there’s no question that the economic life has improved. It hasn’t improved in that all persons have benefited fully, but there has been a general improvement in the quality of life,” he said. “There’s no question about that.
“And I think there has been an advancement, but the advancement in education has not been nearly as good as it should have been and the whole COVID experience has knocked our education system backwards, but economically, I think that would be the biggest achievement.”
Though access to free education, including free tertiary education, has expanded significantly since 1973, poor educational outcomes and a wide skills gap remain the most significant challenges facing The Bahamas today.
While income per capita is around $24,000, there are sharp wealth gaps as well.
Access to quality healthcare, particularly in times of catastrophic illnesses, also remains a critical concern in an independent Bahamas.
“We are fortunate that in health we have so many trained doctors who are able to contribute to the well-being of the country,” Gomez noted.
“I still think we have a lot to accomplish in providing the medical help, that we could all have the proper kind of insurance, the proper kind of medical assistance and medical care being available for all Bahamians.”
We also asked Archbishop Gomez what his greatest disappointment has been since The Bahamas started its journey as a nation.
“We are talking about 49 years right now, almost 50 years,” he said.
“I feel that as a country we started off independence with a constitution written by the British people. We didn’t write it. It was one they wrote for us.
“And in 49 years, we have not changed one iota and I think the time is more than right for us to revisit the constitution to make it one that is ours, that we have produced and is truly Bahamian and that has nothing to do with local politics.
“That’s something I feel as Bahamians we’ve been at this long enough, that we should have a constitution that we have produced that is truly Bahamian.”
There have been two failed attempts at constitutional reform.
The February 2002 referendum on the tail end of the second Ingraham administration addressed a broad range of constitutional issues, including asking voters whether they approve the establishment of an independent boundaries commission, gender equality in matters of citizenship, an increase in the retirement age of judges and the establishment of an independent parliamentary commissioner.
All questions failed.
More than a decade later, in 2016, the Christie administration made a bid at constitutional reform, confining the referendum to citizenship matters.
That, too, failed.
The current administration has pledged to address citizenship issues through legislative means.
Looking to the future, Gomez said Bahamians must be more committed to taking responsibility for their own affairs and not to expect other people to do it.
“We still have a colonial attitude among too many Bahamians,” he said.
“We have to be willing to take responsibility and to do so honestly and with integrity.”
Approaching the 50th anniversary of independence, Gomez wishes for The Bahamas a more mature approach to how we conduct our politics.
“I don’t want to get into anything political in the narrow political sense, but we’re reaching nearly 50 years,” he said.
“If as a nation all of the various groups can come to some kind of [agreement] that we’re going to make a new start, we are all goingto put this common good over and above everything else, I believe that would lead to what I’ve been preaching about and speaking to on my show at Jones [Communications], about this whole business of providing equality of opportunity.
“If we’re going to talk about pursuing the common good, we have to be seen to be about promoting equality of opportunity for every Bahamian. And that means that Bahamians must be the beneficiaries of all that the country has to offer, and I believe that we have not worked as hard as we should on that because we still are placing too much emphasis on foreign development and what the foreigners will do for us.”
Gomez is concerned that not enough is being done to create equality of opportunity in education, health, housing and in other areas.
“We have not arrived nearly at that yet and what I would like to see is a commitment to taking that as a guiding principle – that whatever party is in power, we are working for the common good and we are creating this equality of opportunity for every Bahamian,” he stressed.
“If we could realize those two goals, we could have a beautiful country, an enviable country but if we focus on the petty political issues and are blinded by all of that stuff, we won’t be able to achieve those two goals, and I say that without reference to any particular party.”