Australian Catholic University is proud to have introduced the Parliamentary Interfaith Breakfast series.
In March 2014, ACU inaugurated the NSW Interfaith Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast. This was followed in June 2015 by the inaugural Federal Parliamentary Interfaith Breakfast, which was addressed by both the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition.
A second Federal Parliamentary Interfaith Breakfast is scheduled for August 2017 in Canberra.
Parliamentary interfaith or prayer breakfasts, involving both parliamentarians and leaders of faith communities, exist in a number of overseas jurisdictions. The events present faith leaders with the opportunity to offer a prayer or reading in support of wise deliberations and good government.
In the Australian context, the breakfasts also provide an opportunity for parliamentarians of all parties to meet the leaders of many different faiths, joining with them to celebrate Australia's diversity and communal harmony, while highlighting the shared interests and values that are common to us all.
Although interfaith breakfasts have not previously been part of the Australian tradition, ACU's parliamentary interfaith breakfasts are becoming popular and regular fixtures on the calendars of both parliamentarians and the leaders of faith communities.
For ACU, the events provide a chance to demonstrate our mission in action, namely, to foster an appreciation of the sacred in life, and a commitment to serving the common good. It is an opportunity to not only embrace and better understand our diverse faiths, but also to reflect on the important role that faith plays in our everyday lives and in our calling to serve the community.
Coming together to promote understanding
On Wednesday 9 August 2017, Australian Catholic University (ACU) hosted the second Federal Interfaith Parliamentary Breakfast at the National Press Club in Canberra.
Around 220 guests attended, including 65 faith leaders and 30 federal parliamentarians. Guests were joined by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and Greens Leader Richard Di Natale, each of whom spoke about the value to Australia of our multi-faith society.
The Prime Minister said Australia’s strength resided in its multicultural nature, representing every corner of the world and every faith.
“All of that diversity enriches us,” Mr Turnbull said. “One of the most important things for us to encourage our children to do… is to be curious about our friends, our neighbours’ histories, cultural histories, religious values, religious interests. Because the more we understand each other, the more enriched we are. Everybody's culture enriches everybody else's.”
Mr Shorten spoke of the importance of inclusion of people from all faiths and those of none.
“For Australians of faith, religion is a base to build upon in public life. It is what sustains us in private life. It is not an instrument of division or vilification. Values of faith can guide us in this modern world to be a guide for our children, whatever their circumstances.”
Senator Di Natale said faith communities serve an important role as social fabric.
“They provide a place to feel valued, supported and connected; the notion of love and of caring for each other,” he said.
“It is the common thread that runs through all the world’s religions. It is to be celebrated. It gives us a sense of belonging and deep connection. Interfaith communities are about bringing people together, building connections, building faith. We are all better because of it. We learn from each other.”
Guests also heard from Dr Conrad Hackett, Senior Demographer at the renowned Washington-based Pew Research Center, who set out Pew’s projections for religious identity and demographics around the world.
While, in Western countries, it is easy to think that the world is becoming less religious, Dr Hackett said, the overall global trend shows an increase in the proportion of people claiming to have a religious identity.
Dr Hackett noted that, by 2060, just 9 per cent of all babies will be born to religiously unaffiliated women, while more than 7-in-10 will be born to either Muslims or Christians.
Faiths represented at the breakfast included leaders from Australia's Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, and Baha'i communities. Christian denominations present included Roman Catholic, Anglican, Salvation Army, Uniting Church, Coptic Orthodox, Sukyo Mahikari, Syro-Malabar, United Pentecostal, Seventh Day Adventist, Quakers, Presbyterian, Lutheran and CRC Churches.
Leaders from five religions read prayers from their own traditions. They were:
- Mr Shahram Noorgostar, National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahai’s of Australia
- Ms Cecilia Mitra, Federation of Australian Buddhist Councils
- Most Reverend Amel Nona, Chaldean Archbishop of Australia and NZ
- Sheikh Ahmed Abdo, nominee of the Grand Mufti of Australia
- Rabbi Yaakov Glasman, Rabbinical Council of Australia and New Zealand
Initiated in 2014, ACU’s Parliamentary Interfaith Breakfasts provide an opportunity for politicians from all parties and leaders of different denominations to interact and learn about each other’s culture and traditions.
Celebration of diversity and tolerance
Australian Catholic University (ACU) hosted the Inaugural Federal Parliamentary Interfaith Prayer Breakfast at Old Parliament House in Canberra on Wednesday 17 June.
Prime Minister, The Hon Tony Abbott MP, and Opposition Leader, The Hon Bill Shorten MP each provided a welcome, and seven faith leaders delivered readings on leadership, governance, and service.
The Prime Minister praised the work faith leaders do for the common good and said that it was valuable to have a faith to provide support through difficult times.
“Faith matters, and these days it is more important than ever that we have faith,” Mr Abbott said. “Faith doesn’t make us good but, by God, it makes us better. There is a judge over us who is greater than those who are sitting in judgment of us today.”
The keynote address was delivered by Dr Stepan Kerkyasharian AO, President of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board and for 25 years the Chair and CEO of the Community Relations Commission for a Multi-Cultural NSW, who spoke on the need now, more than ever, for religions and faiths, in their own differing ways, to lead us collectively and in harmony to the highest and purest ideals of human co-existence.
ACU Vice-Chancellor Professor, Greg Craven, said that the opportunity for leaders from across the political and religious spectrum to share a meal together was an invaluable experience and signalled a unity of spirit that exists across political and faith boundaries.
“ACU’s Mission is to foster an appreciation of the sacred in life and a commitment to serving the common good. Core to this tradition is the recognition of the dignity of the human person.”
“The Catholic intellectual tradition promotes engagement with and understanding of people of different faiths. The interfaith prayer breakfast provides an opportunity to reflect on the important role that faith plays in our everyday lives and in making sense of our world.”
ACU Director of Identity and Mission, Father Anthony Casamento, said the event was a good example of how ACU lives out its Mission in pursuing dialogue and understanding, which are the hallmarks of Catholic intellectual tradition. “ACU is the only university well placed in the country to be called upon to draw so many diverse people and have the importance of faith placed so prominently in the public arena,” he said.
Faiths represented at the breakfast included leaders from Australia's Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, and Baha'i communities. Leaders from Christian churches were also there including Baptist, the Salvation Army, the Uniting Church, Coptic Orthodox, Assemblies of God the Wesley Mission and other denominations.
It was significant that the inaugural interfaith prayer breakfast occurred midway through World Refugee Week, and the 50th anniversary year of Vatican II's ground-breaking Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate).
Interfaith breakfasts have not been a part of the Australian tradition. ACU hopes that this interfaith parliamentary prayer breakfast presents federal politicians from all parties with the opportunity to meet and join together with leaders of different denominations, while faith leaders will have the opportunity to interact with parliamentarians and explain something of their traditions and culture to them.
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Diversity celebrated at interfaith breakfast
General Peter Cosgrove AC MC CNZM spoke of the responsibility Australians have to embrace diversity and live peacefully, in his address at an Australian Catholic University (ACU) breakfast in Sydney this week.
The Governor-General designate and outgoing Chancellor of the University was the keynote speaker at ACU's Inaugural NSW Interfaith Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast for around 200 political and faith leaders on Thursday.
General Cosgrove said it was important to "understand the need to have a determined purpose to live our lives peacefully, healthily, enjoyably and productively. This determination instils in us a sense of responsibility, of accountability, a need to protect and nurture the present.
"We believe we have a fundamental responsibility to each other, starting with our family and extending endlessly through our society. This spirit of generosity may not be uniquely Australian but to me it is the bedrock of our character. It characterises the most ancient part of our society and it is what attracts the newest members to our shore."
Leaders from more than 24 faiths, representing the rich religious and cultural lives of Australians, shared breakfast with politicians from more than with 43 parliamentarians from six political parties across the state. ACU Vice-Chancellor Professor Greg Craven welcomed guests, and Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner and Opposition leader John Robertson both delivered a speech, each addressing the importance of faith and acceptance.
Seven religious leaders from the Buddhist, Coptic Orthodox, Hindu, Jewish, Islamic, Catholic and Sikh communities delivered a prayer of faith and contemplation from their own tradition.
Each touched on a deep desire to encourage kindness, wisdom and thoughtful leadership.
ACU's Director of Government, Policy and Strategy, Julian Leeser, was the master of ceremonies at the event and said that interfaith prayer breakfasts involving both religious leaders and parliamentarians have not been part of the Australian tradition.
"We hope that this interfaith parliamentary prayer breakfast presents parliamentarians of all parties with the opportunity to join with leaders of different faiths to pray for wise deliberations over the coming parliamentary year," he said.
ACU's Vice Chancellor, Professor Greg Craven observed "As this event demonstrates, while we are very proudly a Catholic university, ACU is also a public university open to people of all faiths and of none. As a university our mission calls on us to foster an appreciation of the sacred in life and a commitment to serving the common good."
General Cosgrove said that the diversity and difference of its people was a fundamental aspect of Australian society.
"Our communities are made up of individuals from a variety of backgrounds, cultures, religions and life circumstances. To effectively and harmoniously live together we need to believe that our similarities are stronger than our differences. The challenge is to find our shared values. And I do believe that at the heart of our Australian community there is a solid core of vital, accepted values."
Religious speakers were:
- Venerable Dr Juewei, Head Priest, Nan Tien Temple, Buddhist Prayer
- His Grace, Bishop Daniel, Bishop, Coptic Orthodox Church Diocese of Sydney and Affiliated Regions
- Mr Balesh Singh, Member, Executive Council, Hindu Council of Australia
- Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence, Chief Minister, Great Synagogue Sydney
- Dr Amin Hady, Mosque Leader, Zetland Mosque
- Bishop Peter Comensoli, Apostolic Administrator Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney
- Sardar Bawa Jagdev, Secretary, Sikh Council
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Page last updated: 2017-09-07
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