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Commonwealth Day Service: A Celebration of Unity and Diversity

12 March 2018

Her Majesty the Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, accompanied by the senior members of the royal family, attended the Commonwealth service at Westminster Abbey. The service is the largest annual multicultural, multi-faith gathering in the UK and features a blend of testimonies, live performances and readings from throughout the Commonwealth’s 53 countries and 2.4 billion people.

The theme of this year’s service, ‘Towards a Common Future’, highlighted how the Commonwealth can address global challenges to build a better future for its people, particularly its youth. The theme connects to the 2018 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), to be held in April, with leaders from all 53 countries expected to attend.

Broadcast live on BBC One in the UK and internationally on BBC World, the service commenced with a procession of Commonwealth flags. It included a special performance by UK artist Liam Payne singing John Mayer’s ‘Waiting for the World to Change’. Speaking ahead of his performance he said “I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to perform this song and this is the perfect occasion for it.”

Also in attendance ahead of the service was Andrew Bastawrous, an eye surgeon who turned a smartphone into an examination tool that works to correct avoidable blindness in developing countries.

Ahead of his address to the congregation, Mr. Bastawrous, who runs the charity Peek Vision, said “there are all sorts of new technologies and this is one possible way to contribute. By clipping a device on to a mobile phone it enables someone to see inside the eye so a non-healthcare worker can identify someone in a remote setting and link them to services. Such as our programme in Kenya where teachers are finding children in schools and ensure they can get treatment on a timely basis.”

The service also featured a diverse range of performances representing the Commonwealth’s rich diversity. The British spoken word artist Jaspreet Kaur recited her poem ‘The Moment’ which she said was “about humanity and togetherness, this idea of what we can do on an individual basis to help one another and to help society in general, and I thought today is the perfect place to share that message.” 

Members of the royal family paused outside the entrance to the Abbey to watch a performance by Ghanaian drum collective One Drum, who were undeterred by the wet weather. Among the music inside the Abbey the congregation heard performances by the Ngāti Rānana London Maori Club singing the traditional ‘Call for Welcome’ and the Portsmouth Gospel Choir’s rendition of ‘Bridge over Troubled Water’.

Reflecting this year’s theme, more than 800 young people were invited to take part in the service including school children from around the United Kingdom, Scouts and members of youth groups from around the Commonwealth including Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Botswana, Singapore and South Africa. Zachary Phillips, a young leader from Antigua and Barbuda, had the honour of carrying the Commonwealth Mace this year.

In an act of affirmation to close the service, the Commonwealth Secretary-General, Patricia Scotland, stated: “As members of one worldwide Commonwealth family, we acknowledge our shared inheritances and celebrate the goodwill and mutual respect which inspire us to work with one another towards a common future that is fairer, more prosperous, more secure, and more sustainable for the good of all.”

The service was attended by 2,000 people, including the UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, the Prime Minister of Malta, Joseph Muscat, the Commonwealth Secretary-General, Patricia Scotland, alongside senior politicians, dignitaries and diplomatic representatives from across the UK and Commonwealth faith leaders.

The service symbolises the special association between Commonwealth nations, working together for peace by defending the dignity of every Commonwealth citizen, upholding justice and the rule of law, and continuing to cooperate to build a more sustainable and fair future for all those in the Commonwealth.

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