The Archdiocese of Melbourne has been an organisational
member of the Jewish Christian Muslim Association (JCMA) since it was founded
in 2004 as a safe meeting place for Jews, Christians and Muslims. The
Archdiocese provides office space and support for the Association in the
Cardinal Knox Centre, and relates to JCMA through the Ecumenical and Interfaith
The original vision of JCMA was to hold annual live-in
conferences for members of the three faiths, but today the Association has
increased its outreach to include a Schools Program, Women’s committee, Text
Reading Groups and Seminars.
A major focus of JCMA in the current climate is social
inclusion and harm-minimisation.
Last year, in the context of growing tensions in the
community, JCMA held its initial “Friendship Walk”: a visible demonstration of
friendship open to the whole community. The program for the walk was to gather
at a Christian venue (St Peter’s Anglican Church, East Melbourne), then move to
a Jewish venue (East Melbourne Synagogue) and to conclude at a Muslim venue
(the Albanian Mosque in Carlton).
At each venue the host priest, rabbi and imam welcome us
with prayer and some experience of their culture and community. In 2015 the
event attracted just over 100 people from all three communities.
Last Sunday afternoon, 6 November at 2pm, JCMA held this
event again, this time attracting 200 people from Jewish, Christian and Muslim
communities – plus many other faith groups and community organisations and
members of the public.
At East Melbourne, we gathered in St Peter’s Church Hall
where we registered and received name tags (to make conversation easier). Fr
Hugh Kempster prayed the Peace Prayer of St Francis, and invited us all into
the church to light a candle for peace. We then crossed Albert Street to the
Synagogue where Rabbi Dovid Gutnick welcomed us by blowing the shofar (ram’s
horn). A musician and singer from the Jewish Sephardic tradition introduced us
to some liturgical music before striking up the song “Salaam” (peace).
Spontaneously women and men rose up from the pews and began dancing together!
We then set off for the Albanian Mosque in Drummond Street,
North Carlton. The distance is 5kms, through the parks and pleasant streets and
highrise housing tenements. (A minibus supplied by Jewish Care took those who
were unable to cover the distance). This gave plenty of time and space and
opportunity for the participants to walk alongside one another and to engage in
conversation on the way.
We arrived at the mosque where they had plenty of bottles of
cold water available. We crowded inside, filling every spare space on the
carpet, as we were welcomed by the President of the Albanian Society, Vahid
Goga, and Imam Bekim Hasani. For many on the walk, this was the first time they
had ever been in a mosque. The Albanian Society had prepared a table
overflowing with goodies for afternoon tea, and it was after 6pm that the last
of crowd exchanged hugs and handshakes and email addresses and waved good bye.
SBS TV were present to report on the event – which is very
pleasing as often such “good news” stories fail to register among all the drama
and violence on the evening news.
If you missed out this time, you can be assured that JCMA
Friendship Walk will become an annual event. It is a demonstration of fact that
far from creating division in our Australian society, faith communities play an
important role in promoting openness, embrace and friendship.