Des Cahill has been Chair, Religions for Peace Australia, since 2001. At the recent 9th Asian Conference of Religions for Peace General Assembly, Des Cahill was elected Moderator of the Asian Conference of Religions for Peace, unanimously, by the 22 member nations present. In this article, Maria Minto Cahill – wife of 44 years – gives an account of the history of Emeritus Professor Desmond Cahill and Religions for Peace Australia.
BRAVO! DES CAHILL
Des is my husband of 44 years and the father of our two daughters. He has given the last 25 years of his life to the interfaith movement. It grew out of two important elements of his life.
Firstly, his commitment as a Catholic priest and his training in Theology and Biblical Studies in Rome (1966 – 1970), just following the end of the Second Vatican Council (1962 – 1965). The students he studied with were mainly from African and Asian countries.
The second element is his university research and teaching career which began in 1977, covering immigrant, cross-cultural, multicultural and interfaith issues as well as second language education studies.
However, I do claim to first introducing Des to Religions for Peace. As part of my Master’s program, I was undertaking a study into children of other faiths in Catholic schools, particularly in inner city Melbourne. And I was introduced to Fr. Cyril Halley and Rev. John Baldock who suggested that I might attend the 1994 World Assembly of Religions for Peace International at Riva del Garda in Northern Italy. Des stayed home to look after the two girls! Fr. Bill Burt was also a fellow delegate. And I came home full of tales about Religions for Peace and its global presence that I had witnessed.
In the early years, Des seemed to have some questions and doubts about the organization and what it was really achieving. However, going to the next World Assembly in 1999 in Amman in Jordan changed his mind! He met Bill Vendley, then world Secretary-General, and they became firm friends on account of their similar backgrounds.
In 2001, he put up his hand and became Head of Religions for Peace Australia with the late Professor Gary Bouma as his deputy. Within a few months this friendship was cemented. Both travelled to New York 40 days after 9/11 to meet with the heads of all the national chapters sponsored by the U.N. The final religious ceremony was held in a church about 50 metres from Ground Zero, with the New York Philharmonic Choir in attendance. They shared this profound and moving experience.
Des and Gary complemented one another and had the religious and academic clout and connections to make a difference! This culminated in the Melbourne team led by Des and Bishop Philip Huggins going to Chicago to win the bid to stage the Parliament of the World’s Religions with $4 million in his back pocket courtesy of PM John Howard and Premier Steve Bracks. It was staged in December 2009 – the first really big event at the newly opened Melbourne Convention Centre with 6,500 participants. The event was significant because it put the interfaith agenda and Religions for Peace on the map.
Des has made many friends and associates across Asia and this was instrumental in his recent unanimous election by the 22 member nations as Moderator for Religions for Peace Asia.
I know how much Des has appreciated the wonderful support, partnership and collaboration across Australia from all those involved. In particular the amazing support of Sue Ennis and Chris Parnell. You can rightly be proud of all that has been achieved through Religions for Peace Australia!
Maria Minto Cahill