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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Towards a Cohesive Australia, speech by Idris Edward Cardinal Cassidy

Towards a Cohesive Australia
Dooleys Lidcombe Catholic Club
15th September 2006
Idris Edward Cardinal Cassidy

1. In this presentation this evening, I wish to propose three ways in which we might work effectively in seeking to promote and consolidate a ‘cohesive Australia’:
- a) firstly, by establishing and fostering those basic principles of human relationship which make for cohesive co-existence;
- b) secondly, by creating possibilities of genuine interfaith dialogue;
- c) and thirdly, by members of diverse cultural and religious backgrounds joining hands to work together in ways that will benefit society and help those in society who finds themselves in need, whatever their background.
2. Within the Christian community, especially during the past fifty or sixty years there have been developments that, I believe, can help all of us to base on solid ground our attempts to promote peaceful and fruitful co-existence between people of different cultural backgrounds, and so avoid cultural conflict. For the Catholic Church, this process was aided and inspired by the Second Vatican Council. In referring to relations between the Church and other World Religions, the Council placed the emphasis, not upon the differences between religions, but on what people of different religions have in common and what draws them to fellowship. It placed before us Catholics this consideration: if, as Christians understand it, there is but one God who made the whole human race and holds all his children in his love, then surely any child of that one God should similarly treat the other with loving respect. The Council has given us Catholics a challenge in these words: “We cannot truly call on God, the Father of all, if we refuse to treat in a brotherly way any person, created as he or she is in the image of God”. And, finally, the Council reproved, as foreign to the mind of Christ, any discrimination against people because of their race, colour, condition of life, or religion.
3. There we had a whole new way of thinking about other religions and the people who belong to those religions. But in fact, when you look more deeply at these principles, you have a whole new way of thinking about other people in general, and irrespective of cultural distinctions. With these principles as a guide, the Catholic Church set out in the mid 1960s to enter into contact with other religions and even with people of goodwill, but of no religious faith.
4. The basic change that has taken place during the forty years of internal discussion within the Catholic Church, as a consequence of the Council decisions, may be summed up, I believe, in looking at those who profess other religions, or no religion at all for that matter, no longer as simply being persons to be converted to Christianity, but as fellow citizens of God’s great family to be respected, befriended and in this sense loved. They were not to be seen as ‘those others’, but rather as brothers. This is of utmost importance in confronting cultural conflict. I was deeply moved by my contacts with the former Yugoslavia during the Bosnia-Herzegovina conflict. This was not a conflict about religious beliefs, but the people involved were either Christian or Muslim. Yet, men were being brutally murdered because, I was told, they are not part of us. They are ‘the others’! Women were being raped and abused because they belonged to ‘the others’. Children were left to starve simply because they belonged to ‘the others’. If you happened to be one of the others – no matter to which group you belonged -, you would not be given respect, treated humanely or taken care of. That this should still happen at the end of the twentieth century is a tremendous challenge to all men and women of religious faith to cry out in protest and to join hands in changing such a mentality.
5. The “other” in the true Christian message is to be loved, not ignored or badly treated. Love in this sense means respect. It means being concerned for the other, to be ready to stand by the other in difficulty, to care about the other in need, joining hands with those who suffer injustice or discrimination. Jesus taught his followers these basic principles: He told us to love our neighbour as ourself; to love even our enemies; to love one another as He has loved us.
6. Unfortunately, we Christians cannot claim to have always acted in that way down though the centuries. At times, even in our days, one hears “reciprocity” being put forward as an excuse for not acting in such a loving way. Those others do not love us, so why should we love them? That can sound very reasonable, but it is not Christ’s way. The word “reciprocity” or its equivalent does not appear in the Christian revelation, and it is not part of Christ’s teaching. If we wish to oppose cultural conflict here in Australia, the Christian community being by far the most numerous has to take a stand and not wait for the minority to make the first move.
7. Lest, however, I may be misunderstood, I consider that reciprocity is a vital element in promoting a cohesive Australia. While it ought not to be an excuse for inaction by the majority, there is no doubt that little will in fact be achieved without reciprocity from other less numerous communities. Cultural harmony must be a joint effort, or else it will not come about.
8. My second submission is directly related to interfaith dialogue. The Council went further still by urging Catholics to respect not only members of other religions, but also those religions themselves, pointing out that the Catholic Church “regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men”.
9. Religion usually forms an important element in most cultures, and is all too often seen as being the dominant element in cultural conflict. But it would be surely wrong and a mistaken reading of history to isolate religion and make it the one cause of most cultural conflict. As you all know, this is often regrettably just what happens. I have already referred to the conflict in Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. The troubles in Ireland over the centuries have been looked upon so often as problems between the Catholic and Protestant religions. The two peoples involved were Protestant and Catholic, but it was not religion that was the cause of their division, so much as social and political questions. I think our Muslim brethren would agree that conflict in Iraq is not the direct result of people belonging to Sunnis or Shiites, but to other social and political questions. After all, today each great religion is made up of people of many and diverse cultural backgrounds. There are other causes for conflict. Injustice and inequality within nations and between nations are responsible for much of the conflict that is taking place and is considered all too often to be based on religious differences.
10. These considerations do not, however, allow religions to ignore the cultural conflicts for which they may be blamed. Rather they must play their role in seeking to contribute to cultural harmony and peace among peoples of different faiths. Little was done in this regard in the past. It is not so long ago that ‘interfaith relations’ began to find an important place on the agenda of most religions.
11. In recent years successful attempts have been made at the international level to bring members of different religious affiliation together, in order to seek mutual understanding and prevent possible cultural conflict. Pope Paul VI offered Catholic representatives taking part in these meetings the following good advice: “We desire”, he said, “to join them in promoting and defending common ideals in the spheres of religious liberty, human brotherhood, education, social welfare and civic order”. He asked that special attention be paid “to those worshipers who adhere to other monotheistic systems of religion”, recalling the bond that links the Christian and Jewish religions and stating, with regard to Islam,: “We do well to admire these people for all that is good and true in their worship of God”.
12. Experience in multicultural relations here in Australia has made it clear that being very respectful to the other party is not enough. A positive outcome depends on something deeper, namely a meeting of minds. Efforts are being made here in Australia to bring people of differing cultural backgrounds together, to help them realise that ‘the other’ is not so very different to themselves. I know that various on-going programmes between Muslims and Christians are taking place in our community both in interfaith dialogue and inter-communal activity. The Catholic Institute of Sydney for theology and ministry recently held a five day Winter School, entitled “Introducing Islam”. The Sydney based Columban Institute for Christian-Muslim relations has also been very active in fostering Christian-Muslim relations. Initiatives taken by the Columban Institute have shown that once confidence is built between Christians and Muslims, successful dialogue follows and common initiatives can be undertaken. In a recent article in The Far East Columban Magazine, Sister Pauline Rae stated:
There are many misconceptions about what Muslims believe and there are similarities that people don’t recognize. When a person realizes that “ALLAH”, the God of the Muslims isn’t an alien God, but the “YAHWEH” of the Jews and Christians, there is a greater chance that respect will be accorded to the Muslims.
13. This kind of activity is often referred to as a ‘dialogue of life’. It starts off with a kind of ‘friendly co-existence’, but develops through being together, listening to each other, working together, speaking together on questions of common interest and justice. Greater understanding results and attitudes can change dramatically. Much more effort is needed, however, at the local level to inform, educate and bring together members of different religions and cultural groups if a cohesive Australia is to be fostered and built up. Ignorance of the other is a tool in the hands of those who wish to create trouble.
14. Thirdly, and finally, I would suggest that when members of diverse cultural and religious communities join together in some common cause that will benefit society in general, barriers disappear and strong friendly relationships take their place. Such cooperation is like a school where those involved learn to respect the other, create lasting fellowship and contribute to building a cohesive society. Christians in recent years have experienced this in many countries throughout the world. They have come in this way to realize that what they have in common in so much greater and more important than what divides them. It is an experience that can, I feel sure, produce similar positive results in bringing members of diverse religions and cultures closer together in a cohesive Australia.
15. Good principles are not so difficult to enunciate. It is much harder to bring them into the life of those who form part of the tradition that proposes them. This is the task that faces our communities in Australia at this time. It is, in my opinion and experience, mainly a question of education. Since the Second Vatican Council, this has been a major challenge for our Church and indeed for all the Christian Churches. When speaking of the changes that have taken place in ecumenical and interfaith relations, time and time again, I have been disappointed to be told by members of the audience here and in other countries that they had never even heard of such developments.
16. To sum up what I have been saying, I would repeat that there are in my opinion three ways in which the various cultural communities in Australia can work together for a cohesive Australia, where each and every cultural community can feel at home.
a) by establishing sound principles based on the acknowledgement that there is one God who loves all his children, irrespective of cultural differences; and by taking action to educate their followers in this new understanding.
a) by entering into and promoting genuine interfaith dialogue;
b) by joining hands to work for peaceful co-existence and reconciliation between troubled communities. Pope John Paul II, in his Message for the 2002 World Day of Peace, challenged us all with these words to do just that:
“The various Christian confessions, as well as the world’s great religions, need to work together to eliminate the social and cultural sources of terrorism. They can do this by teaching the greatness and dignity of the human person, and by spreading a clearer sense of the oneness of the human family. This is a specific area of ecumenical and interreligious dialogue and cooperation, a pressing service which religion can offer to world peace”.

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