Reflection from Always
Challenge to the Church
I see the need to challenge
ourselves, the Catholic Church in Australia, because when you think about
it, as a religion it is, in its composition, probably the major culturally
diverse institution in the country. Therefore, the church has an obligation
to ensure that its members not only accept and practise what are "our
multicultural policies" in terms of citizens’ responsibilities,
but the teachings of the church in being inclusive, welcoming, plural,
multilingual and diverse in its own rituals and expressions of Faith.
It demands that in new times and new contexts, the leadership is clearly articulated and expresses this publicly as a core set of values, principles and the mission of the church, in order to give the opportunity for people to actively participate in evangelisation according to their own gifts and talents. This will bring harmony. This will humanise society.
It will create an atmosphere
of trust and increase respect for differences.
Most importantly, the church
itself will be renewed and revitalized. It will also gain credibility
in the wider society, by acting honestly and with integrity. This
seems to be lacking at present. We see the reality of large numbers
of Catholics from culturally diverse backgrounds experiencing isolation,
forced to be living in ethnic enclaves, because they are not given the
space and flexibility to be inserted into the mainstream church.
This is in order to share their richness in liturgy, in language, in
expressions of their Faith, through rituals and devotions which are
vital and which sustain the Faith of peoples in times of intolerance.
The Catholic Church is required to ask the theologians in Australia, what has been considered in this respect? How the priests are trained and equipped in order to be pastors to communities which are increasingly polyethnic, multilingual and diverse in culture and expressions of their Faith? Are the religious and lay personnel who are working among Catholic Ethnic Communities and parishes with culturally diverse membership constantly updating themselves in this specific ministry?
Does the church have resources
equivalent to service with justice their membership equally, as the culturally
diverse membership contributes or wishes to contribute to the mission
of their local Church?
Why is it that the majority
of the culturally diverse membership, including many of the second generation
born in Australia, instead of sharing and participating actively in
their parishes, still prefers to be involved in the minority Ethnic
It seems to me that the church
is required to seek and reflect with a high degree of honesty and integrity and
§ What have we done that did not work?
§ What are we doing now to provide a
welcoming, inclusive and genuinely hospitable environment
so that all the marginalised can become, and feel, equal members whose
cultural rights will not be denied or repressed?
§ What will we do as church once we find
out the reality? That we are not welcoming as we think?
That we are not inclusive as we believe? And that we are not hospitable,
as our Gospel and church teachings expect us to be?
I am sure that, not only many
people from culturally and diverse backgrounds will participate actively,
but also, many of those who have not been active for a period of time
may become encouraged to return. That is, if they see the efforts
being made to be honest and to act with integrity, and not just to be
seen to be doing the right thing. And not just acting superficially
by declaring and showing the rich cultural folklore of the composition
of our church, but by increasing the openness in liturgy in order that
it is enriched and diverse. Also, in order to deepen our spirituality,
by forming personnel to become cultural mediators in all ministries,
services and structures of the church. And to ensure those priests,
religious and lay people, who are presently the workers with the Catholic
ethnic minorities, are actively engaged as part of the mainstream membership
and structures of the church. Then, they will not find excuses,
that because they are in a "special ministry", they find themselves
The most practical thing in
all this is that it may have implications inside of the structures,
the resources and services. Therefore, it will have economic implications
as well. So, unless the church, as an institution, is prepared
to apply access and equity policies in the distribution of its personnel
and services, then our mission will continue to be partial, not inclusive
as Jesus teaches us to be. Not welcoming as the tradition of the
church tells us we need to act. And our hospitality will continue
to be conditioned to be accepted as a cultural domination to the vulnerable,
the stranger, the marginalised and those who, because of race, language
and diverse expressions of their Catholic Faith, are different.
The positive result of a deep search
and study into the world of the culturally and linguistically diverse
membership of our Catholic people is that our membership will have more
active participation and more dynamism. The ecumenical cooperation
will increase and strengthen our churches. The interfaith dialogue
will benefit, since people from culturally diverse backgrounds have
the life experience of living in many countries among people of different
Faiths. This gives the opportunity to share with the church what could
be helpful for us so as to have a better understanding and respect for
each other as citizens of the same Australia, in order to live in peace
In other words "multiculturalism”
needs to be a policy, but at the same time, a way of practising our
Catholic Faith according to a set of principles that we all accept and
commit to, in order to call Australia home. It needs to de-construct
the marginalisation of people who, because of their race, language,
political or religious backgrounds, are forced onto the margins of our
society or to build ghettos.
This is different to the understanding
that we, as the Catholic Church, build cultural communities which help
people to maintain their language, history, traditions and cultural values.
And where, at the same time, these communities are encouraged to share
their values so that the rest of the mainstream becomes not only culturally
enriched, but dynamic, flexible, pluralistic and respectful of each
This will tell the wider Australian society and the world that the local Catholic Church, as part of its mission, is making a dynamic contribution in order that Australia is a safe, peaceful, friendly and inclusive place. This will be another example of our shared common, good understanding of evangelisation to the world, in order to find true peace and harmony for all to enjoy life with respect and safety.
International Coordinator – Always People
Consultor of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care
of Migrants and itinerant People
August 2005 (Updated may 2006)