Your Excellency, Vishwas Vidu Sapkal, Indian High Commissioner to the Republic of Fiji,
Honourable Mahendra Reddy, Minister for Education, National Heritage, Culture and Arts,
My Fellow Fijians,

Bula vinaka and Namaste

It is a pleasure for me to be here today as part of this grand Nationwide Ganesh Utsav 2016. Of course, my part is very small compared to the dedication and devotion that more than 10,000 of you have shown at 55 venues all across Fiji. I congratulate you and express to you my sincere admiration for your deep devotion to your faith and to your willingness to sacrifice your time and energy and resources for it.

I was always taught to remember that there is a power that exists higher than me. In my work as Prime Minister, it is my faith in God that guides me in serving the Fijian people. It is my faith that shows me right from wrong. And it is that same faith that has given me a deep respect for people of other religious traditions and has driven me to understand and value the ways they worship.

People of faith are important in a free society, a free society like we now have in Fiji. People of faith give a voice to morality and ethics. They demand good government, justice and social responsibility. When people of all faiths come together in tolerance and understanding, when they love and respect each other and work for the common good—then peace, justice and prosperity will flourish.

Last year, His Excellency the former President of Republic of Fiji, Honourable Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, said that Ganesh Utsav has become a National Festival. And, of course, he was right. It is celebrated in every corner of Fiji, from Viti Levu to Vanua Levu to Levuka to Taveuni.

For these past 11 days, you have all celebrated the birth anniversary of Lord Ganesha, who is believed to be a deity of auspiciousness, prosperity and wisdom, and who removes the obstacles that life places before us. Each and every day, we face new obstacles, new challenges. But it is through faith that we overcome them. Challenges make us stronger. They make life meaningful and worthwhile. They sometimes seem insurmountable, but we become better people when we face them and conquer them.

I want to applaud Fiji Sevashram Sangha for naming this Nationwide Celebration “A Celebration of National Unity,” not just because of the huge number of people celebrating all over Fiji, but because of the way you have reached out to all Fijians to invite them to share in this celebration—to share the joy and devotion you feel.

During the 10 days of the Ganesh Utsav Celebrations, more than 1,200 school students—all from different schools around Suva and Lautoka and from different backgrounds and religious traditions—have participated in the educational competitions you have organised. In our multi-ethnic and multi-religious society, we all must do more to share the important symbols and traditions of our faith—not to force our belief on others, but rather to build understanding and unity.

The Hindu scriptures emphasise the central importance of the family, the importance of the family sharing food and worshipping together. Seeing you all praying here together this afternoon – in fact seeing good people all around Fiji praying together today—shows us that if families are united, communities will be united and our nation will be united. We are one people, one nation and one destiny. We are all Fijians.

That was not always a reality. But today – thanks to our unrelenting push for a fair and impartial society– we can stand together, as equals. Whatever differences exist between us, do not exist to divide us, but rather serve to make us even stronger.

Congratulations to Fiji Sevashram Sangha and to all Lord Ganesha devotees around the 55 venues in Fiji for the very successful Nationwide Ganesh Utsav Celebration, and thank you for making this a truly national celebration of unity, devotion and peace.

Vinaka Vakalevu and Dhanyawaad.