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Parliamentary Interfaith Breakfasts
Since 2014, Australian Catholic University has hosted six parliamentary interfaith breakfasts, bringing together parliamentarians and the leaders of many faith communities in a spirit of mutual respect and dialogue.
The most recent breakfast was held on 24 November 2022 at the National Press Club in Canberra and featured addresses from the federal Opposition Leader Peter Dutton, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus and renowned journalist Stan Grant.
Parliamentary interfaith or prayer breakfasts, involving both parliamentarians and leaders of faith communities, exist in a number of countries around the world. 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 a popular and regular fixture on the calendars of both parliamentarians and the leaders of faith communities. ACU publishes a program for each event, in which faith leaders are invited to offer a prayer or reading in support of wise deliberations and good government.
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.
2022 Federal Parliamentary Interfaith Breakfast
Discussions about religious freedom in Australia should aim to unite the nation rather than divide it, guests at the Australian Catholic University’s sixth Parliamentary Interfaith Breakfast have heard.
After a two year hiatus due to the pandemic, over 150 guests – including dozens of parliamentarians and leaders from a wide diversity of different faiths – gathered on 24 November 2022 at the National Press Club in Canberra.
The event heard addresses from federal Opposition Leader Peter Dutton, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus and renowned journalist and academic Stan Grant.
Professor Grant said love for neighbour, even in the midst of evil, had the power to unify all people no matter what their beliefs.
“All around the world I have seen the truth of love in the face of horror,” he said.
“Love is the first lesson I learned in the little mission church in Griffith where I was raised. I knew that I was hearing something that was going to stay with me for the rest of my life and I could feel in that little church, love.”
Federal Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus referred to the national debate on freedom of religion in Australia in his address.
“For many Australians, religious forms a central part of their personal identity and value system, and it helps guide how they want to raise their families,” Mr Dreyfus said.
‘This Government will always stand for a genuinely inclusive society in which everyone belongs and everyone can participate,” Mr Dreyfus said.
While previous debates about religious freedom had been “unnecessarily divisive”, Mr Dreyfus said a genuinely inclusive society could only be achieved by working together.
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said based on the growing faith communities in Australia, the nation was “far from being a godless country”. He cited the success of Australia’s migration policies, which had led to a sustained growth of many religious groups in the country.
“Australia has embraced people of many backgrounds, many faiths, and indeed those of no faith,” Mr Dutton said.
“Religious tolerance is therefore in our national DNA but it is being tested. We must call our religious intolerance wherever it manifests, regardless of the faith it is targeting.”
ACU Chancellor Martin Daubney emphasised that everyone in a society such as Australia’s has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
“The rights of everyone must be respected – be they people of faith or people of no faith,” he said.
“And by the same token, there must be respect for the rights of religious minorities to propose their beliefs to the community, to put them into action in their service to the community, and to run their organisations on the basis of their faith-inspired missions.”
Speaking at his first Parliamentary Interfaith Breakfast as ACU Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Zlatko Skrbis said the university was one of the few higher education institutions where faith was at the core of its identity.
“This annual gathering serves as a unique opportunity to provide a space for open dialogue, where conversations can take place that concern our democracy, our community, our culture, and the role that faith plays in our everyday lives,” Professor Skrbis said.
Professor Skrbis said he agreed with the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who on his recent visit said people from secularised Western societies had “lost the ability to disagree well”.
Five faith leaders from five religious communities and representative bodies closed the event by reading prayers from their respective traditions:
Venerable Tenpa Bejanke Dium, Chairperson, Australian Sangha Association
Ms Elizabeth Stone, General Secretary, National Council of Churches in Australia
Sardar Vickram Singh Grewal, Vice-President, National Sikh Council of Australia
2021 Interfaith Publication: Reflections on Hope and Resilience
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Parliamentary Interfaith Breakfast was unable to be held in 2020 and 2021.
To continue its commitment to bringing together our respective faiths, ACU compiled a publication titled Reflections on Hope and Resilience, featuring short prayers, readings and reflections from faith leaders across Australia.
The purpose of the publication – and its collected readings – is to highlight the spirit, resilience and hope that each community of faith has offered its members and the broader Australian community throughout a time of hardship and despair for many.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese united to provide forewords to the publication.
ACU's Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Zlatko Skrbis said the collection of prayers and readings was designed to fill the vacuum and maintain the sense of connection between faith communities even as they were unable to gather in person.
“I hope this interfaith publication, with its rich and moving words, brings all Australians joy and a sense of connection at a time when so many of us have had to be disconnected from one another,” Professor Skrbis said.
“During the darkest moments of the pandemic, our faith communities rallied together to provide support to Australia's most disadvantaged, and to each other, in ways that provided hope and encouraged resilience in the face of the challenges.”
The importance of religious freedom examined at interfaith breakfast
The importance of championing diversity and inclusion were key themes at ACU’s fifth Parliamentary Interfaith Breakfast at Parliament House in Melbourne on Tuesday 26 November.
Over 150 guests attended, including more than 45 faith leaders and 40 parliamentarians.
Former NSW Premier and ACU Chancellor the Hon John Fahey AC, GCSG welcomed guests, while Victorian Deputy Premier the Hon James Merlino MP and Leader of the Opposition the Hon Michael O'Brien MP gave speeches that noted our strength as a community rests in our shared values of diversity and inclusion.
The leaders of five different faiths delivered readings on the importance of religious freedom, leadership, service and community harmony, and prayed for wise deliberations and good governance.
Deputy Premier Merlino said, “One of Victoria’s greatest strengths is its history of multiculturalism and religious diversity. We are uniquely home to a culture that aims to ensure people of all backgrounds and beliefs can freely and proudly practice their faith.
“That is why a breakfast like this is so important. We know that our state is infinitely stronger because we refuse to let those differences divide us - we use those differences to unite all of us.”
Opposition Leader O'Brien said, “A harmonious, well-functioning multicultural society requires a genuine appreciation of our differences. Our different birthplaces, our different languages and ancestries, our life journeys and experiences as well as our different beliefs.
“Together it is our responsibility to foster this interfaith understanding and to protect religious freedoms as an essential element of ensuring community harmony.”
Australian Race Discrimination Commissioner Mr Chin Tan said, “Events like this Parliamentary Interfaith Breakfast play an important role in shaping the framework of rights protection in Australia. Interfaith dialogue is a powerful tool for overcoming bias through open communication, empathy and education.
“Ongoing conversations between different faith groups highlight our similarities and build respectful understanding of our differences. These differences are the colourful threads in the tapestry of modern multicultural Australia. Sharing in the diversity of Australia’s faith groups is an opportunity to better understand not only our community but the wider world in which we live.”
Archbishop of Melbourne Peter A Comensoli, who was also a guest at the event this morning said, “This morning’s breakfast at the Victorian Parliament was a simple and joyful celebration of our freedom in Australia to practise our religion. It is inspiring to see members of Parliament sharing a coffee with religious leaders and listening to them with respect. We need more moments like this in contemporary Australia.
“We can all be thankful to Australian Catholic University for taking the lead in bringing different faiths together to pray and to talk with one another.”
ACU’s parliamentary interfaith breakfasts have become a popular event on the calendars of both parliamentarians and the leaders of faith communities. This year, parliamentarians had the opportunity to meet with leaders from more than 17 faiths - including various Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh and other communities – with the intention of celebrating shared values.
ACU Vice-Chancellor Professor Greg Craven AO, GCSG said Australians were extremely fortunate to live in a country that valued human rights and the ability to observe our own faiths.
“These should not be privileges; they should be fundamental to our existence as individuals, and collectively as a community,” Professor Craven said. “Religion should always be a legitimate voice as a source of values within public life and within public affairs. People of faith should be able to express their religious freedom, to explore our differences, and to rejoice in our shared beliefs.
“And as leaders – whether in law, government, faith, industry, education or society – it is our responsibility to champion, uphold and protect these important freedoms, so we can continue to express our faith, and live in harmony and mutual respect.”
ACU held its inaugural Parliamentary Interfaith Breakfast in Sydney in March 2014. Subsequent breakfasts were held in Canberra in 2015 and 2017, and in Sydney in 2018.
Diversity and tolerance celebrated at interfaith breakfast
ACU hosted the fourth Parliamentary Interfaith Breakfast on 17 October 2018 at Parliament House in Sydney.
Nearly 200 guests attended and were joined by NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and former Opposition Leader Luke Foley, each of whom spoke about the value of our multi-faith society.
Premier Berejiklian said our strength rested in our shared values of diversity and inclusion.
“It gives me an enormous sense of pride to see so many distinguished community leaders of all religions and all faiths, coming together to break bread… this is something that doesn’t happen in all parts of the world,” she said.
Mr Foley said faith communities were an important part of our society, allowing the community to feel valued, supported and connected.
“Religion should always be a legitimate voice as a source of values within public life and within public affairs,” he said.
Guests also heard from SBS World News journalist and news presenter Ms Janice Petersen who delivered the keynote speech. Ms Peterson spoke about the role of media in society and reporting of religion.
Leaders from five religions read prayers for wise deliberations and good government.
Parliamentarians had the opportunity to meet with leaders from more than 20 faiths – including Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh and other communities – to celebrate shared values.
ACU's parliamentary interfaith breakfasts have become a popular event on the calendars of both parliamentarians and the leaders of faith communities.
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.
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.
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 on Wednesday 6 March 2014.
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