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Sharing our faith in times of trouble

Opinion

Extremism has reared its ugly head close to home in recent months – firstly the Christchurch mosque shooting and then the Easter terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka.

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Both tragedies have affected us greatly as we grapple with the perpetrators’ brazen and senseless disrespect for human life. The targeting of religious places where people go to pray and seek spiritual solace makes these acts even more shocking and disturbing.

As Australians, our connection to Christchurch is sadly through the citizenship of the gunman but also through the close relationship between our two nations – geographically, historically and culturally. The New Zealand Government’s calm response and compassionate outreach to the affected Muslim families has offered a glimmer of hope amidst the darkness.

In Sri Lanka, the huge number of people killed and injured can’t help but have an impact on all of us but in particular on our own Sri Lankan community. Many of its members were forced to flee conflict and repression in their country and are now making a significant contribution to society and the Church in Australia. Over the past decade, as peace has returned to the country, Sri Lanka has become a popular tourist destination for Australians, further strengthening the ties.

At times like this, there is little we can do but express our sorrow and offer prayers for the victims and their families.

But it is also an opportunity for us to renew our commitment to interfaith and ecumenical initiatives which promote harmony and encourage tolerance at all levels.

Our common humanity often comes to the fore when tragedy strikes but it can be sorely lacking at other times when views are polarised and words of hate and intolerance are pervasive.

As the Australian Council of Christians and Jews stated, such shocking events call on people of all faiths and none to “redouble our opposition to all forms of violence rooted in bigotry and prejudice, and to insist that leaders promote the common good of everyone, and to recommit themselves to practising dialogue on all levels”.

Here in Adelaide, the Catholic Church was quick to organise an interfaith memorial service for the victims of the Christchurch shooting but this is only part of the story. For several years the Archdiocese has held an annual Iftar meal to celebrate the end of Ramadan with Muslim community leaders, while Jews, Muslims and Christians have come together in the Cathedral for events such as Kristallnacht and Remembrance of the Shoah (the Holocaust).

Our Catholic schools are wonderful incubators of multi-faith harmony with students from different cultures and religions showing respect for each other on a daily basis.

The universality of the Catholic Church is another reason that it plays such an important role in expressing solidarity with other peoples and nations in times of crisis.

On my recent overseas trip, it was a joy to celebrate Sunday Mass in the 17th century Catholic Cathedral of Cusco, Peru. Young children ran freely amongst the crowded pews and worshippers flocked to the front to be sprinkled with holy water by the priest. We couldn’t understand a word of the liturgy but we knew what to do and when, and we felt very much a part of this vibrant congregation.

Similarly, in New York we were thrilled to participate in the Solemn Mass celebrated by Cardinal Timothy Dolan in St Patrick’s Cathedral, arguably the most beautiful building on Manhattan Island.

With the Cathedral overflowing with New Yorkers and tourists, Cardinal Dolan resembled a rock star as he chatted with police officers providing protection on Fifth Avenue and then walked down the aisle shaking hands with parishioners. The music was magnificent, the homily uplifting, and my husband was even asked to help collect the money which really made us feel at home!

Just as these experiences make me proud to be part of the universal Church, so too do I feel proud to be Catholic when we come together with people of all faiths in our local community to share our sorrow, and ultimately our hope, with people who are suffering deeply as they grieve their lost ones.

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