The Commonwealth Service: A Celebration of the Commonwealth took place at Westminster Abbey on Monday 14th March, in the presence of Her Majesty The Queen, Head of the Commonwealth. Her Majesty was accompanied by The Duke of Edinburgh, Their Royal Highnesses, The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Harry and The Duke of York.
Mr Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations delivered the Principal Reflection. Dr Joseph Muscat, Prime Minister of Malta and the new Chair-in-Office of the Commonwealth delivered a reading and the His Excellency Kamalesh Sharma read the Affirmation. Singer-songwriter Ellie Goulding, performed 'Fields of Gold'.
The service was broadcast live for the first time on BBC One.
Kofi Annan's speech:
'As a Ghanaian, who feels very much a part of the Commonwealth family, it is both a privilege and a pleasure to speak here today
The Commonwealth has a unique place and role within the international community.
It harnesses the creative energy, traditions and values of more than two billion people around the world.
It strongly promotes democracy, good governance, human rights and sustainable development.
These represent the interdependent pillars of any fair and healthy society as there can be no peace without inclusive development and no development without peace. And no society can long remain prosperous without the rule of law and respect for human rights.
As well as building and strengthening invaluable links between member countries and their citizens, it also provides practical support from election monitoring to promoting trade and security co-operation. Education, at school and at university level, is a further area where the rewards of closer ties and cooperation, are ours to seize.
Today, the Commonwealth stands as a confident, modern, multicultural and proudly inclusive organisation.
Let me dwell on the word inclusive for a moment because it has a central place in the Commonwealth’s founding document.
This puts the people at its heart and declares that plurality and diversity are its greatest strength.
It also means that we must constantly strive to ensure that no child, woman or man is excluded or left behind.
These are enduring principles which not only bind us together as citizens of the Commonwealth but are absolutely critical for our collective ambitions for our world
It has never been more important for the Commonwealth to stress the bonds of human compassion and solidarity that unite us across the divides of race and religion, gender and geography.
It is also why I am so pleased to see that the Royal Commonwealth Society has brought together so many young people to enjoy this celebration.
They represent the more than one billion young people who provide our greatest hope for the future.
We must trust and nurture them in the timeless values of the Commonwealth.
We should be confident that, if we provide them the opportunity, they will continue to build on what has been achieved.
No individual has made a greater contribution to these achievements than Your Majesty
You have shown an unwavering and steadfast devotion to this grand project.
We are greatly honoured and deeply grateful for your extraordinary commitment to its people.
I would like to express my best wishes to you, and your family, in the year in which you celebrate your 90th birthday.
Let me conclude by thanking Secretary-General [Kamalesh] Sharma for his invaluable service and welcome his successor Baroness Scotland.
Finally, may I also extend my best wishes to all members of the Commonwealth.
We can go forward in the confidence that history has shown how much more we can achieve together.
About the Commonwealth Service
The Commonwealth Service is the UK’s largest multi-faith celebration and takes place annually on the second Monday in March at Westminster Abbey. The one hour service features a mixture of testimonies, readings, and musical performances.
Each year the Service is based around an annual Commonwealth Theme. For 2016, the theme is ‘An Inclusive Commonwealth', inviting citizens to consider what it means to live in a diverse yet equitable, fair and tolerant international community.
This unique event is traditionally attended by Her Majesty The Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, High Commissioners, the Commonwealth Secretary-General, and dignitaries from across the UK and from around the Commonwealth as well as senior politicians and 800 school children.
The Royal Commonwealth Society organises the Service on behalf of a group of Commonwealth organisations, known as the Council of Commonwealth Societies (CCS).
Commonwealth Day has been celebrated across the Commonwealth, every year since the 1970s. In recent years, there has been a shift away from celebrating a single day towards celebrating Commonwealth Week, with Commonwealth Day at its centre. The aim is to celebrate the unity, diversity and links of the modern Commonwealth and to foster greater understanding of the Commonwealth’s achievements and role, particularly among young people.