Imam Hassan Elsetohy, Rev Myung Hwa Park, Rabbi Ralph Genende, Mr Julian Leeser, Dr Natalie Mobini, His Grace Haigazoun Najarian, Most Rev Christopher Prowse DD STD, His Grace Bishop Daniel.
Issues of faith, community and tolerance were discussed at ACU’s inaugural Federal Interfaith Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast in Canberra.
Australia’s multiculturalism has succeeded where other countries have failed, but accepting differences of culture and faith is fundamental to this success, Dr Stepan Kerkyasharian told leaders at an interfaith breakfast in Canberra on 17 June.
President of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board and the keynote speaker at Australian Catholic University’s inaugural federal parliamentary interfaith breakfast said it was not enough to simply be tolerant: acknowledgement and acceptance must underpin the fabric of our society if we are to coexist at a time of increased uncertainty, prejudice and fear.
“The reality is that religions, while aspiring to the highest and purest of ideals of human co-existence have different messages, different pathways,” Dr Kerkyasharian said.
“The message should be one which says, ‘my religion is different to yours. My faith is not the same as yours. But, I accept your right to have a different religion, a different faith’. That, I respectfully submit, is the message that truly generates a harmonious multipath co-existence. The message of acceptance of the difference.
“Seek to know, understand and accept our differences because those differences are the essential elements of our religious traditions. They will not change, so let us accept them and get on with getting on.”
More than 200 political, faith and community leaders attended the breakfast to hear Dr Kerkyasharian’s speech along with other speeches and prayers at the breakfast at Old Parliament House.
Seven faith leaders delivered readings on leadership, governance, and service:
• Imam Hassan Elsetohy, General Secretary of the Council of Imams NSW • Rev Myung Hwa Park, Moderator, Synod of NSW and the ACT, Uniting Church in Australia (Uniting) • Rabbi Ralph Genende, RACS Chair, Senior Rabbi to the Australian Defence Forces, Senior Rabbi Caulfield Hebrew Congregation (Judaism) • Dr Natalie Mobini, Director, Office of External Affairs, Baha'i Centre (Baha’i) • His Grace Haigazoun Najarian, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church in Australia (Armenian Apostolic) • Most Rev Christopher Prowse DD STD, Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn (Roman Catholic) • His Grace Bishop Daniel, Bishop of the Diocese of Sydney and Affiliated Regions (Coptic Orthodox)
In a welcome address, Prime Minister Mr Tony Abbott 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.”
Leader of the Opposition Mr Bill Shorten said the congregation of faiths was a celebration of the unity of modern, multicultural Australia.
“We worship many faiths – but as Australians we all share a common belief: the belief that everyone is welcome and everyone is equal,” Mr Shorten said.
“It’s a the creed that runs through all our faiths: love for our neighbours, loyalty to family, and help to those in need.”
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.