Australian Catholic University has been proud to introduce the Interfaith Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast Series. In March 2014, Australian Catholic University inaugurated the NSW Interfaith Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast. In June 2015, we followed up with the Inaugural Federal Interfaith Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast and we plan to roll out these events into the future.
Parliamentary prayer breakfasts involving both religious leaders and parliamentarians exist in a number of parliaments; however, interfaith parliamentary prayer breakfasts are rare and have not been part of the Australian tradition. We hope that these interfaith parliamentary prayer breakfasts present parliamentarians of all parties with the opportunity to join with leaders of different faiths to pray for wise deliberations over the forthcoming parliamentary year.
Through the breakfast, Parliamentarians have the opportunity to meet with a range of faith leaders from different faith denominations, while faith leaders have the opportunity to interact with parliamentarians and explain something of their traditions and their culture to them.
For Australian Catholic University 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.
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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