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Thursday, 04 August 2011 02:45

Interfaith talks promote a hospitable Australia

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An expert on her topic, the Dominican Sister is the Executive Officer of the Broken Bay Diocese Commission for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations. She is a foundation member of the Women's Interfaith Network and a Christian representative on the Australian National Dialogue of Christians, Jews and Muslims.

Her series of talks on 'Welcoming people of different faiths: how and why' were sponsored by Catholic Religious Australia's (CRA) Australian Mission Network. Between 4 and 20 May, Trish spoke at public lectures in Cairns, Townsville, Lismore, Wagga Wagga and Alice Springs. Attending the talks were members of the local Catholic community, people from other Christian churches, some Muslims and a Baha'i follower. Trish also met with Catholic school teachers and students to share her knowledge on interfaith content areas in the Studies of Religion syllabus.

With more migrants and refugees settling in regional Australia, Trish says many residents in those areas are experiencing multiculturalism for the first time.

"So, questions of how to relate in a pluralistic society are coming to the fore in everyday life, but particularly in our schools and in healthcare."

In her public lectures, Trish looked at the changing character of Australian society, particularly in the past 20 years when people from non-Christian faiths have settled in this country. She outlined the Catholic Church's teaching since Vatican II on other faiths and on relationships with people of other religions.

She also highlighted how Australia's future will depend on how well we can create a cohesive society in which the identity of each person is honoured and all are given the opportunity to contribute as Australian citizens to a fair and just society.

"From the response I received at the lectures and sessions with the teachers, we definitely tapped into something people in regional areas are looking for," says Trish.

At the same time, she was surprised that many of the Catholics she met were unaware of Church teaching on inter-faith issues.

"The teaching is in the hearts of the Catholic community in the way they respond to people of other faiths, but they are not hearing about the Church's large body of theological and pastoral teaching on the subject," says Trish.

As a result, people attending the lectures were very interested to learn about Church teaching and available resources and receive copies of the Council for Australian Catholic Women's national guidelines on interfaith dialogue.

"The challenge now is for the people who attended to share their knowledge and understanding with others," says Trish.

One group that is doing just that is a number of Catholic women who attended Trish's women's breakfast in Townsville. After meeting a Muslim woman there they have planned future meetings with her and other with local Muslim women.

"Despite politicians and the media trying to whip up fear in people, there is a great desire in the Australian heart to be hospitable to people from other cultures and faiths," concludes Trish.

Footnote: At the end of June, Trish moved on to the international public speaking stage, presenting a paper on 'Women in Ecumenism' at the international conference 'From World Mission to Interreligious Witness: Visioning Ecumenics in the 21st Century' at Trinity College Dublin to mark the centenary of the world ecumenical movement.