"Promoting Interfaith Guidelines: Some Guidelines for the parishes and Agencies of the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne"
(August 21, 2007)
Launched by Archbishop Denis J. Hart at Knox Theatre, Cardinal Knox Centre, 383 Albert Street, East Melbourne, Tuesday 21st August, 2007, 7:30pm
On August 21, 2007, ninety people gathered at the Cardinal Knox Centre in East Melbourne to attend the launch of the Archdiocesan guidelines for parishes, schools and agencies to assist in the promotion of interfaith relations. The guidelines, Promoting Interfaith Relations; Some guidelines for parishes and agencies of the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne , were developed by the Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission and approved by the Archbishop.
Bishop Christopher Prowse, Auxiliary Bishop of Melbourne gave the key note address. The gathering was also addressed by Dr Paul Gardner of the B'Nai B'rith Antidefamation Commission giving the Jewish communities response to the guidelines; Mr Yassar Soliman of the Victorian Multicultural Commission offering a response from Muslim community; Venerable Carolyn Lawler of the Tara Institute offering a response from the Buddhist Community and Swami Shankaranda of the Shiva Ashram offering a response from Kashmir Shivaism (Hindu). Following speeches Archbishop Denis Hart officially launched the guidelines by commending them to the Episcopal Vicar for Interfaith Relations, Monsignor Peter Kenny.
The guidelines are a first for an Australian Catholic Diocese. They give guidance in the basic approach and methods of inter-religious dialogue and how to prepare for an authentically religious multifaith event. The issue of whether and how it is possible to pray together is also addressed. Links to websites, a glossary and personal stories from the "dialogue of life" are also included as appendices.
The guidelines state that,
"It is increasingly likely that the parishes and agencies of the Archdiocese will be invited to take part in interfaith gatherings, which, if they are to be truly spiritual, cannot be simply a ‘colourful' event, an empty ritual. They must be so structured and conducted that participants draw nearer to the Divine Mystery.
Furthermore, these parishes and diocesan agencies are increasingly involved in multi-faith and multi-ethnic situations. These short guidelines will help provide a balanced and fruitful approach.
According to the guidelines, interfaith dialogue does not entail Christians watering down their faith; nor should it be blind to the light of truth in other religions. Bishop Prowse in his keynote address said it does great harm to interfaith dialogue for a Catholic to slip into a belief that all religions are basically the same. Catholics should not fudge “the basic Catholic belief that the Church (the Body of Christ) is necessary for salvation. Jesus is for all times ‘ the way, the truth and the life ' (Jn 14.6). Jesus alive in his Church is necessary for the salvation of every human being”. At the same time, Bishop Prowse continues “[The] universal salvific will of God propels us to seek out the evidence of God's presence in all men and women of good will and offer every encouragement and mutual search for fullness of all Truth.”
Bishop Prowse identified three challenges in further development in the “graced journey” of interfaith dialogue. Many Catholics fail to see why we should engage in interfaith dialogue. The ongoing development of interfaith relations “is an important way to peace in families, neighbourhoods and communities – local, national and international.” Secondly, at what point in one's own faith development is one ready for interfaith dialogue? According to Bishop Prowse, the more soundly a person is grounded in their own faith, the more ready the person is for constructive interfaith dialogue. Thirdly, Bishop Prowse said that reciprocity is a big issue for Catholics. Whilst Christian countries offer warm and generous hospitality to people of all faiths, there are countries, particularly middle eastern countries, where Christians, the minority population, do not enjoy the same freedoms. Bishop Prowse added “I was in Bethlehem and the Holy Land last year. The exodus of Christians from these lands because of hardship to worship and have their children educated in Christian schools is alarming.”
Dr Paul Gardner, the Immediate Past Chairman of B'Nai B'rith Anti-Defamation Commission, in his address said the past half century has seen a profound change, a sea-change, in Catholic Jewish relations. Dr Gardner noted that the change has taken place at the highest levels and also at grass roots. Here in Melbourne, Dr Gardiner said the sea-change can be seen “in such organizations as the Council for Christians and Jews and …in events such as the Abraham Conferences and Jewish-Christian-Muslim Association conferences that have brought members of the various faiths together in an atmosphere of warmth and trust.” In relation to the guidelines, Dr Gardiner said: “I value the contents of the guidelines… This is a document that unambiguously encourages participants to hold firmly to their own faith while respecting the traditions and beliefs of others.”
Mr Yassar Soliman congratulated the Archdiocese of Melbourne for the guidelines saying that the guidelines mark the start of our future in interfaith relationships."There has been, in some of our histories, times where we have hurt each other," he said. He went on to say: "The friendship process has already started. But there is much need for healing, for forgiving each other, for establishing the systems and attitudes that are needed to support real grassroots change. What others have done throughout history, good or bad is important to learn from. But what is more important is what we are going to do ourselves collectively and how that will impact on our shared future together and on the legacy we leave behind."
At the end of the evening, Archbishop Hart entrusted the guidelines to the Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission to be implemented in the Archdiocese. He concluded the evening with a reading from St Paul's Letter to the Philippians (4:8-9), a prayer for the success our endeavours, and a blessing:
“Lord, may the work of promoting interfaith relationships begin with your inspiration and continue with your help, so that all our prayers and works may begin in you and by you be happily ended. Glory and praise to you, for ever and ever. Amen.”
Bishop Christopher Prowse (Auxiliary Bishop, Melbourne) (download speech)
Guest Interfaith Speakers:
Dr Paul Gardner (B'nai B'rith Antidefamaiton Commission - Jewish Community) (download speech)
Mr Yasser Soliman (Victorian Multicultural Commission - Muslim Community) (download speech)
Venerable Carolyn Lawler (Tara Institute - Buddhist Community) (download speech)
Swami Shankarananda (Shiva Ashram - Kashmir Shivaism) (download speech)
Photographs (please email David for full size pictures)