Leading Faith Communities in Difficult Times

Tasmania LogoThe Faith Communities Network of Tasmania met online on Sunday 21 March. Many leaders of faith communities (Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Shia, Brahma Kumaris, Baha’i) were present and spoke about their experience of being a faith community leader in times of lockdown. Religions for Peace was also represented with the Chair, Emeritus Professor Des Cahill OAM giving an address at the conclusion of the meet.

Prof Desmond Cahill OAM: summary of discussion of the Faith Communities Network of Tasmania’s gathering entitled Leading Faith Communities in Difficult Times

It was very good to see the religious leaders of Tasmania coming together and sharing their thoughts about the bushfires and then the pandemic and what that meant, but I particularly liked you commemorating the Christchurch massacre because Australian Society has not properly reflected on the fact that the gunman was an Australian. We haven’t had a conversation about this and I think it’s being resisted for reasons that I don’t fully understand, even at state levels. It was deeply embarrassing to be an Australian, when a fellow Australian did such a terrible deed. It highlights the dangers that we have from ideologically based extremism, whether it’s religious or not. It’s very good that you have been commemorating that.

It’s good to see so many people I met that day (July 2019) at the opening of the Faith Communities Network of Tasmania at Parliament House. That was a special event for me and also to see Master Wang, whom I’ve known for more than 10 years… it’s about 13 or 14 years that I’ve known him. He played a key role in the Parliament of the World’s Religions held here in Melbourne in 2009.

What can I say about this gathering? It was good to hear about the Compassion work of Gwen Pinnington, Prof Doug Ezzy’s interfaith research work and Rev Gus Yearsley’s Emergency Chaplaincy work, which was of particular interest to me at the moment because we (RfPA) have a research and consultation project on Chaplaincy here in Melbourne that’s being financed by the Victorian Multicultural Commission. The results of that will feed into the Victorian Government and no doubt it will be available Australia-wide, when we get around to writing it up.

One of the things I like to emphasise with COVID-19, and Ajit Ramadas brought this up, COVID has highlighted the precariousness of life. We’re all in the same boat, fragile and disoriented. I think our vulnerability to COVID – and Australia has handled it extremely well when you look at the figures… our death rate is 50 times less than the Americans’ and about 60 times less than the UK rate – has uncovered our false certainties. I know that Pope Francis has emphasised that it’s time now to live differently, to live better, to love more and to care more. Those are very important words because COVID-19 has brought the whole world to its knees.

They bring the importance of spiritual hope, because people without a purpose of life that has a spiritual content have often found themselves at a loss during this time. I see spiritual hope as the capacity to embrace, not only the unknown, but also the unknowable because maybe, maybe, this may be the first of future pandemics. We’ve had smaller pandemics: Ebola, HIV, but the last really major one was the Spanish Flu after the First World War. But I think the present pandemic has brought home that we’re being called on. There’s the cry of the poor and that’s going to become another issue… a bigger issue… it’s already an issue… and the cry of the land, because increasingly we can see that there is a link.

Scientists are recognising that with the cutting down of the forests and the depletion of certain species etc, that increases the possibility of future pandemics. That may not happen, but I think there is a greater risk there. So the importance of spiritual hope, is something that we, as religiously inspired people, committed to the interfaith agenda, that we could all work together to give hope. Hence the importance of the religious voice.

Now, emphasising that we’ve had this crisis, we may be through it and the vaccination is being rolled out, but then there’s going to be an economic crisis, the social justice crisis and we’re now starting to see, with the end of the Job-seeker allowance, that the banks are no longer giving a holiday from mortgages and so on. Just in this morning’s paper here in Melbourne, it’s now starting to appear that people are having their electricity turned off because they can’t pay for it. The holiday that power companies have given has ended. So we’re going to also see severe mortgage stress. That’s going to put a burden on religious communities and their welfare. Are agencies and so on going to be able to respond to that?

Those are my thoughts listening to what I’ve heard today and again I congratulate Tasmania on what you’ve done today. It’s great work and it was impressive to see so many religious leaders come together to look at the issue of religious leadership in difficult times as we’ve been through in the last 15 months, but it ain’t ended yet.

Professor Desmond Cahill, OAM.

Prof. Des Cahill, OAM, Chair of Religions for Peace Australia has been an active participant in interfaith activities and has been the Chair of Religions for Peace for 11 years. He is also Professor at the School of Global Studies, RMIT University, Melbourne.

Educated in Australia and Italy, Des Cahill, Professor of Intercultural Studies at RMIT University, has been a world leading researcher and teacher in the areas of immigrant, cross-cultural and international studies for more than three decades.

Prof. Des Cahill

Since the events of September 11th 2001, he has played a major role in researching and bringing together the various faith communities in Australia and across the world through his research and community activities. He currently chairs the Australian chapter of Religions for Peace International, the world’s largest interfaith organization, and represents Australia on the executive committee of the Religions for Peace Asia – in October 2008, he was elected its Deputy Moderator by the Governing Board representing the 18 member nations including Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Japan and the two Koreas. He is a member of the Australian Partnership of Religious Organisations (APRO) and of the Victoria Police Multifaith Advisory Council.

In 2006, he led Melbourne’s successful bid, in competition against Delhi and Singapore, to host the Parliament of the World’s Religions during 3rd – 9th December 2009, the world’s largest interfaith gathering. As a consequence, he has been made an Ambassador for Club Melbourne, a group of 100 leading scientists and academics, to promote the image of Melbourne around the world.

In the 2010 Queen’s Birthday Honours List, he was awarded the Order of the Medal of Australia for “services to Intercultural Education and to the Interfaith Movement”. Professor Cahill is Chair, Religions for Peace Australia.