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Church must address 'existential threats'


The Catholic Church in Australia is not taking full advantage of the work of Pope Francis in addressing issues of peace, justice and ecology, despite the “state of unprecedented emergency” that the world is in today.

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That’s the view of Emeritus Professor Joseph Camilleri who was in Adelaide last month to speak at the launch of Just Peace SA.

With a 40 year career teaching international relations at Latrobe University and a long involvement with the Pax Christi peace movement, Professor Camilleri was one of the driving forces behind a recent conference in Melbourne on Just and Ecologically Sustainable Peace.

He told The Southern Cross it was not often that the Church had a leader with the depth of understanding of Pope Francis and described his encyclical Laudato Si’ as “just brilliant”. He also praised the Pope’s moves to abandon the principle of ‘just war’ and for being the first to sign the nuclear depository treaty.

“But the Church generally is not taking full advantage of it which is a great shame,” he said.

“I think all Churches in Australia feel a bit under siege, put crudely, they’re in survival mode, so they become introspective…taking on these issues that require skills, learning and education becomes difficult.”

It was rare, he said, for a priest to preach about such matters and he suspected most parishioners would feel “quite comfortable” and find it “unsettling” to be told they were facing “the most challenging period of human history over the last 200,000 years”.

“There is nothing to match it because we are living with existential threats, which threaten the entire planet, and the whole human family…but we don’t seem to be able to rise to the challenge yet,” Prof Camilleri said.

“Some Pacific islands will be under sea within 20 years, no question, even if we stopped climate change tomorrow, which we can’t. We should brace ourselves for tens of thousands of boat people coming here.”

He said justice, peace and care of the earth needed to be treated as “one coherent whole” at a local, national and international level. He suggested holding wide-ranging community consultations that would enable Australia to arrive at “some kind of consensus on a national statement of principles that would underlie how we approach our impact on climate change, other aspects of environment, our attitudes towards war and security, relations with Indigenous Australians, a coherent narrative of where we are at and where we would like to be”.

“That won’t arise overnight,” he said, “but it would provide benchmarks for how those in positions of power and decision-making are managing to put those principles into effect.”

At an individual level, he said there were three critical areas: parenting, education and conversation.

“To be parents in these troubled times is an entirely different kettle of fish to what it has been in past,” he said.

“To bring up children who are equipped to handle the challenges of a globalising world in the 21st century is entirely different to what it used to be when thinking primarily in local and national contexts.

“Parents see themselves as loving their children…but if you know that your children or grandchildren could literally be burned on this planet, how could you love them and not be working on this front?” he asked.

“If you’re not into the issues posed by climate change, if it’s not an issue discussed at the kitchen table, you don’t really love those children, you are pretending. By pushing it to one side you are not really dealing with reality. “

Prof Camilleri said teachers needed to be trained to ensure “the globalisation of empathy” rather than “indifference” was central to learning.

“This needs to flow right through the curriculum,” he said. “Not just in RE or some other area.”

He singled out universities as being “among the worst places” because of their emphasis on the dollar as the bottom line.

“The dollar guides everything, and therefore these notions of empathy, ethics, global and local responsibilities are not uppermost in teaching, and it’s universities by and large that train the teachers who teach in the school,” he said.

“Churches have a very important role in ongoing education as do other sectors of society; trade unions, political parties, professional groups, media – they should all be actively involved in ongoing education because it is a very complex set of issues we are dealing with.

“We have to get on top of it rather than letting it get on top of us. This is the world we’ve created, we’ve made it what it is, so we have to find better ways forward and not shirk responsibility.

“And it’s a state of emergency so we have to introduce a sense of urgency, a role for everyone.”

He said justice and ecology needed to be “integral to all of our everyday conversations” including our interaction with family, friends, colleagues, the Church and social media.

But he warned against “pontificating on the solutions to the world’s problems” and said we have to “learn to listen more than we speak”.

“That’s the key to conversation, find out what’s troubling other people, their anxieties for the future; we might think they are trivial but they are not to them,” he said.

“The key is that others genuinely believe that you care for them, then that makes them open to the possibility of conversation.”

For more information on Just Peace SA, contact



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