Emeritus Professor Desmond Cahill, Chair, Religions for Peace Australia, delivered the Annual Report for Religions for Peace Australia at the Annual General Meeting (online) on 19 June 2022. The report is given below.
World Conference of Religions for Peace (WCRP) operating as Religions for Peace Australia
ABN 49 320 161 142
Religions for Peace Australia
Annual Report – 2021-2022
ABN 49 320 161 142
Religions for Peace Australia
Annual Report – 2021-2022
RfP Australia and the C-19 Pandemic
This 2021 – 2022 report is prepared for the online Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Australian chapter of Religions for Peace (held on June 19th, 2022) and for the Asian Conference of Religions for Peace (ACRP). The world is in turmoil because the COVID-19 pandemic is still with us, climate change has led to many weather disasters such as bushfires and floods in Australia, and since February 23rd, 2022 the Russian invasion of the Ukraine.
As I reported in previous years, by any measure Australia has done remarkably well in combatting the virus but the death rate has increased significantly in the last year. Restrictions have been mostly lifted because Australia is well vaccinated and vaccination mitigates the impact of the disease – 60 million vaccine doses have been distributed to a population of 25 million, more than 95 per cent of the population aged over 16 have received two doses and two thirds have received the third dose.
In the previous two years, I have cited the mortality figures compiled by the John Hopkins University Coronavirus Data Center in Baltimore, using the deaths per 100,000 population from COVID-19. It is interesting to compare those figures with the figures two years later (see Table One).
Table One: Comparative Mortality Rates 100,000 Population for Selected Countries, 2020 and 2022
Reflecting on the pandemic, Religions for Peace Australia has highlighted that the communication channels between government, health and religious authorities was patchy and establishing an Interreligious Council of Australia would be one concrete way of overcoming the issue. It approached the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition about establishing such a Council with a blueprint for action. With a new government this will remain on RfP’s agenda.
2022 has seen a change of government with the election of the Albanese Labor Government in May and this will lead to a more positive climate change policy, an anti-corruption bill to regulate the activities of parliamentary representatives, improvement in relationships with countries such as China and Indonesia, better treatment of women and an increase in migration intake. With regard to refugees, after the Afghanistan debacle, 14,000 Afghani refugees are being allowed to enter Australia permanently this year and with its own large and well-established Ukrainian community (both Orthodox and Christian), between 23rd February and May 30th, 2022, 8,000 visas for Ukrainian refugee have been issued, often to join their Australian relatives.
Religions for Peace Australia was successful in reviving Religions for Peace New Zealand, and Emeritus Professor Paul Morris will be a more than competent representative. It is helping to establish a national chapter in Timor Leste and has begun negotiations to establish a Fijian national chapter.
The Ninth Asian Assembly
Founded in 1976, the Ninth Asian Assembly of the Asian Conference of Religions for Peace was the major event of the year. Held online from 19th – 22nd October, 2021 and conducted by the Tokyo Secretariat. Australia played a major role beginning with its involvement in the preparations and the Secretariat is to be congratulated for the excellence of the event. The attendance over the four days varied from 190 – 290 participants over zoom. The World Secretary-General, Professor Azza Karam speaking from New York said she was deeply honoured to be invited to speak. In our COVID-19 world, our environments are in deep danger and collective service is not an option, and governments can see how valuable the work of religion can be. “ACRP, please continue to inspire us”, Professor Karam concluded.
The keynote speaker was Professor Shinichi Takemura who spoke on The Co-Evolution of Man and the Earth in the Anthropocene. The anthropocene, a term rapidly gaining acceptance, refers to the geological epoch dating from the commencement of significant human impact on Earth’s geology and eco-systems. In 60 years there has been an increase of five billion people yet we are still using a two-dimensional version of the Earth from the 1500s. He drew particular attention to water and the water crisis. Many millions still do not have a toilet. He hoped that urban areas might become more abundant areas due to biodiversity e.g. bees through rooftop gardens and more ground trees and plants. We need to form a second Earth because the green revolution has failed. We need a multi-species partnership in a renewed concept of the future which would include virtual socializing rooms.
A special session was given to the pandemic and national health systems. And a session was given to the topic of Afghanistan with input from the beleaguered country itself, especially from people working for Japanese NGOs. The Vice President of Religions for Peace Pakistan, Ms Huma Ikramullah, committed her chapter to hold a conference on peacebuilding in Peshawar and a similar conference in Afghanistan itself.
At the panel session of Commission Four on the Environment and Development which was organized by the Chinese, the Panchen Lama spoke of the interdependence in building a community of life through purifying the inner self and having respect for animals. The keynote speech was given by Dr. Yu Hai from China’s Environmental Research Center who said that China would achieve carbon neutrality by 2060 and the acid rain situation had improved markedly. There were now 474 national nature reserves. He stressed that civilization thrives when the ecology thrives.
Ms Philippa Rowland President of Multifaith South Australia our RfP Australia affiliate, stressed the necessity to make lifestyle changes to reduce our footprint on the Earth. “We pray for all facing fear and disruption, for all affected by the global pandemic. We pray for a world transformed, in which humanity in all its diversity has developed a shared reverence for life on Earth”. A better future is possible if our collective response to the pandemic and the climate crisis is guided by compassion, love and justice at a scale that meets the urgent need of this moment. She outlined eleven recommendations that flow from her paper:
Recommendations for National and Regional Faith Communities
1. Develop and share regional models for action on climate, development and environment
2. Encourage communities to adopt lifestyle changes in Energy, Transport, Food and Divestment
3. Develop respect for First Nations’ wisdom and Indigenous knowledge of Ecosystem Management
4. Show leadership in promoting climate-positive strategies and Nature-Based Solutions
5. Provide humanitarian support where possible, including Disaster and Recovery ministry
Recommendations for ACRP Member Countries
6. Develop national plans for ambitious cuts in emissions by 2030, not just by 2050
7. Seek commitment to no new fossil fuels or deforestation and to promote nature-based solutions
8. Advocate for rapid regional transition to 100% renewable energy and potential hydrogen economy
9. Ensure UN Green Climate Fund is resourced to support nations suffering climate impacts in the Asia-Pacific region
10. Propose economic recovery models that are based on sustainable, clean jobs – not gas
11. Support and encourage adoption of debt for nature/debt for climate swaps
Our RfP Australia secretary, Dr. Sue Ennis, shared her views with Commission One: Education for Peace and Human Dignity: Challenges, for an Inclusive, Healthy, Prosperous and Peaceful Asia. She made the following recommendations:
1) each national chapter undertakes an audit of the situation of women and girls as a key aspect of human dignity, and develops an action plan on how to improve gender equity through education
2) the ACRP and its chapters need to link together peace and environment education given that the impacts of climate change are upon us
3) the ACRP establish an Umbrella Religious, Peace and Environmental Academic and Practitioners Network/Advisory Group
4) each national chapter establish a fully functioning bilingual website in the national language and in English by 2024 for the purposes of information sharing and educational and other initiatives and may include supplementary websites
5) each national chapter prepare an annual action and implementation plan for tabling at the annual meeting of the Executive Council
6) RfP International ask the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) to hold Zoom sessions for RfP chapters on the economics of violence and peace
Prior to the Assembly, the Women’s Assembly elected Ms. Elga Sarapung from Indonesia as its chair with co-chair Dr Suhamet Yunasit from Thailand after thanking Dr. Lilian Sison who had been chair for the previous 12 years. Our Australian RfP secretary was made a committee member. Those present focussed initially on the evil of human trafficking and then on the need for women’s empowerment and the right to bodily empowerment. Ms. Mariko Sato from the UNFPA which is the UN’s sexual and reproductive health agency spoke of the inequalities which were deepening worldwide, the millions of women and girls trafficked and in slavery and the need to end preventable maternal deaths. Part of all this was breaking barriers between religion and sexuality education. “There was the need to break the silence, to break the shame and to break the stigma”.
Also held simultaneously was the Youth Assembly which elected Renzo Argao from the Philippines as Chair. Australia was represented by Bonnie Soehiro who is a member of the Canberra Interfaith Forum. The emphasis was on disasters, including the Great East Asian Japan tsunami while Mr. Seietsu Sato spoke of the once-in-a-1000 year earthquake. He was a leader of a rescue squad as a fire worker. He had to bear the loss of his wife. He repeated to himself, “I must survive” as he watched the bodies being piled up. The youth representative from Myanmar spoke of how “We are going to live in hell” after the military coup.
The 2022 Asian Assembly ended with the election of Emeritus Professor Desmond Cahill of Australia as the ACRP Moderator and Mr Deng Zhongliang from the China Committee of Religions for Peace as Deputy Moderator. Dr. Yoshi Shinohara was announced as the new ACRP Secretary-General to replace Nobuhiro Nemoto who has been appointed as the Deputy Secretary-General of Religions for Peace International in New York. Our secretary, Dr. Sue Ennis, was subsequently appointed as an Associate Secretary-General with responsibility for Oceania.
Asian Assembly: Action Plan and Flagship Projects of ACRP
As a result of the Assembly, a statement was approved (see Appendix Two) and an ACRP Action Plan has been formulated composed of
(i) Promoting flagship projects,
(ii) Building effective partnerships,
(iii) Advancing gender equality,
(iv) Promoting interreligious education,
(v) Engaging in interreligious councils development and
(vi) Advancing fundraising.
The Flagship Projects are concerned with (a) Awareness raising of the dignity of all forms of life (b) Anti-human trafficking and modern slavery (c) Peacebuilding and reconciliation (d) Protection of the environment and (e) Youth leadership development.
RfP Australia: First Peoples and UN Interfaith Week Address
In 2020, Religions for Peace Australia made the decision to focus on Australia’s First Peoples and Aboriginal spirituality as well as their quest for reconciliation built around the Uluru statement. Australia’s indigenous peoples are the longest, continuously existing culture in the world having lived on the Australian continent for 63,000+ years. In May 2021, in tandem with two parliamentarians, Senator Deborah O’Neill (Labor) and Russell Broadbent (Liberal) and the Canberra Interfaith Forum led by Mr Dean Sadhu Khan, invited Senator Patrick Dodson, Australia’s foremost First People’s leader, to present the UN Interfaith Week address at the Notaras Multicultural Centre in Canberra and this address was relayed via zoom across Australia. The Senator interfaced Aboriginal spiritualities with Christian spiritualities, noting that Aboriginal spiritual traditions and practices were orally known thousands of years before the Christian Bible was written down. He noted how the so-called Doctrine of Discovery of New Lands such as Australia and the Americas was nested in a false Christian theology.
The Aboriginal lands were stolen from the First Peoples by the white invaders and they became refugees in their own lands. Truthfulness and dialogue were now necessary to achieve reconciliation. The evening was completed with a reading of Dadirri; The Practice of Aboriginal Contemplative Listening (see end of this report) by the 2021 Senior Australian of the Year, Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr, who comes from the Arrernte Aboriginal people around Alice Springs. In December 2021, the Multifaith Association of South Australia attended a smoking ceremony to mark Proclamation Day and in February 2022 a leading TV political and social commentator Stan Grant spoke of his own First Peoples identity and the politics of identity in Australia in the context of the First Peoples’ Uluru Statement which may lead to a change in the Australian the constitution. In Victoria, RfP is following the Yarrouk Truth Telling Inquiry ordered by the state government.
National Interfaith Prayer Days
A national prayer service was held on the UN Day of Tolerance in November 2021 with South Australia holding an interfaith service in March for the people of the Ukraine (see below).
The major setback for 2020-21 was the sudden closure of Griffith University’s Centre for Interfaith Dialogue and Culture, the only such research centre in Australia. It was as a direct result of the pandemic as Australian universities have had to close many such centres because of the huge drop in the numbers of international students coming to study in Australia. It was a sad day for Australia’s interfaith movement committed to inter-religious dialogue, joint inter-religious action, inter-religious harmony and social cohesion at all levels of Australian society, especially when Dr. Brian Adams returned home to the United States.
Dr. Adis Duderija from Griffith University has continued his association and each national meeting we have been joined by Sister Margaret Naylor, secretary of the Queensland Faith Communities’ Council. The Council has held a multifaith prayer service at the Queensland Parliament House and hosted an interfaith dinner. It has updated its Festivals Across Faiths booklet.
Multifaith Chaplaincy Project
In 2020 we reported that Religions for Peace Australia had received funding of $44,000 for a project with the Victorian Multicultural Commission. Its aim is to extend and professionalize multifaith chaplaincy by recruiting and educating chaplains from recently arrived religious communities (including the Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh communities and the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches) through improving small chaplaincy training programs. The lead researchers are Emeritus Professor Des Cahill and Dr. Sue Ennis. Unfortunately, the project has been badly delayed by the pandemic. However, the interviews with head chaplains of the various sectors have now been completed online and a report will be completed in the next month. Part of the project has been to establish a special website, Multifaith Chaplaincy Australia, by our very committed webmaster, Rev. Chris Parnell.
The Multifaith Chaplaincy website has been funded by the Victorian Government through the Victorian Multicultural Commission under the Multifaith Chaplaincy project. It has almost tripled in size over the previous year in the number of unique visitors with 117,249 hits compared to 39,691 hits in 2020 and 39,123 pages read compared to 11,074 in 2020. Interest in Chaplaincy and Spiritual Care during Covid-19 is probably at the foundation of this increase (triple) the number of new visitors from the previous year (2117 unique visitors). The Average daily visitors = 31 (currently, this site is getting 30 visitors per day)
The pages created from the overview document (Healthcare Chaplaincy, education chaplaincies, industrial chaplaincy, sports chaplains, chaplaincy to migrants and refugees, emergency service chaplaincy, military chaplaincy, youth chaplaincy) all have comprehensive page reads. The foundation of this site has been vigorously pursued by – in the main – chaplaincy professionals and chaplaincy/pastoral educators.
Once again, the majority of visitors come from Australia, with 20,663 Australian visitors looking at pages 68,510 times, suggesting that these visitors were looking at 3 or 4 pages per visit. Strong interest in this site comes from the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Netherlands, Thailand, Germany, Russian Federation, China and India.
Top downloads on Multifaith Chaplaincy Australia included Spiritual Health Association Capability Framework, General Practice (of Chaplains). During the Covid-19 Pandemic, Grossholme: Beliefs nurture Chaplaincy – Chaplaincy nurtures Spirit, Inclusivity in UK Pastoral, Spiritual, and Religious Care: A Humanist Perspective, Non-religious spirituality, Non-religious Spiritual Care, Kantar School Chaplaincy Report, Islamic Council of Victoria: Caring for Muslim Patients, Professional Development: Muslim Chaplains, Reflective paper for leaders: Chaplains can be a key treatment resource in secular workplaces, Caring for those who Care, Progressing the Multifaith Agenda in Multicultural Australia (Cahill), Certificate IV in Chaplaincy and Pastoral Care, What is Contemporary Paganism, The Corona pandemic as a challenge for spiritual care, Health Care Chaplaincy Network – Scope of Practice.
The Covid-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on chaplaincy and caring, particularly when chaplains were wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and the social capital of chaplaincy experienced diminution. On the other hand, the Covid-190 pandemic raised strongly serious issues about chaplaincy and providing non-spiritual care to non-believers who sought some form of chaplaincy service. Papers on the Humanist Perspective, Non-religious spiritual care, and similar papers on the site received a high number of page reads, somewhat reflecting the phenomena of Spiritual but Not Religious (SNBR) and the growth of the atheistic – humanist perspectives. The work of Alain de Botton in this area is critical to providing non-religious care. There is clear demand for this.
Two Websites Report
In addition to our Multifaith Chaplaincy website, our other website, www.religiousforpeaceaustralia.org.au, continues to forge ahead, under the global-roving eye of our webmaster, Rev. Chris Parnell, providing an unparalleled service to Australia and the world as does our second website, Multifaith Education Australia.
Report: Religions for Peace Australia Website 2021
The number of new visitors to our main website was 49,010, a rise of 15 per cent from the previous year with 1,948,551 hits and 295,808 pages read. The average daily visitors on site = 233. The majority of visitors came from Australia, 133,729 visitors from Australia making 1,160,499 hits on site. Looking at Unique visitors (new visitors to site), these site viewers are reading an average of 6 pages during a visit. Australian visitors are looking at more pages, an average of 8-9 pages per visit. After Australia, the visitors in rank order (of visits) were from USA, Sweden, China, India, Canada, Great Britain, Unknown, Germany, Russian Federation and Spain. We also received visitors from the Ukraine. “Unknown” are the visitors who use their own VPN or a private window in browsing.
The top downloads for the year of 2021 were The Golden Rule for Interfaith, Diverse Faiths of Tasmania (second highest download – so useful), the Muslim Australians Report, 2021 Multifaith Calendar, Child sex abuse and the Catholic Church, Chaplaincy and Specialist Spiritual Care in Victoria – A Preliminary Overview, Welcoming Migrants and Refugees (RfP International), Australian Multicultural Council, Interfaith and social cohesion in Australia: looking to the future, Religion and Social Cohesion in Australia (Cahill, Ennis), Living the Change – Faithful Choices for a Flourishing World (Cahill, Rowland), Multicultural Australia: “Living the Change” in a Challenging Climate, 2011 Freedom of religion and belief in the 21st century Australia (Bouma, Cahill, Dellal, Zwartz), Importance of Interfaith Dialogue (Canberra Interfaith Forum), Jewish Film Festival, Confusions about Multiculturalism, 2004 – Religion and Cultural Diversity in Australia – Main Report, A Holy and Unholy Mess (Cahill), Interfaith Dialogue and the Social Dividend (Cahill), G20 – 2018 Argentina Summary Report, Joint Declaration of Religious Leaders against Modern Slavery, JINAPAÑJARA – The Buddha’s Mansion, and a Recital to overcome Sickness and Disturbances.
The list of downloads extends to 675 titles on our website. The downloads listed above have all been downloaded more than 500 times. There is a sense that interfaith activity in disparate containers of the Australian community is well documented, and Religion and Multicultural Australia is a topic gaining more traction as time passes on. However, it may be noted that documentation regarding integration of the CALD (Culturally and Linguistic Diverse) community and their religious and cultural practices vis-a-vis interfaith dialogue is important to our site visitors.
Top search terms which bring visitors to our site include “women’s interfaith network”, interfaith dialogue in Australia, prayer, mosques, Muslims, Woolworths – halal, religion
Report: Multifaith Education Australia Website 2021
The average number of daily visitors was 52, more than double the previous year. Whereas the unique visitors during Year 2020 totalled 3,167, during the following year of 2021 the unique visitors totalled 10,423, a tripling of the number. Home schooling and resources for students during the pandemic may account for this increase of visitors.
The top number of visitors to the Multifaith Education site came from the US (not search engines – this is a separate tally), followed by Australia, Sweden, Germany, Great Britain, Netherlands, India, Russian Federation and Thailand.
The full list of downloads on this site amount to 939 PDF files. These downloads include Interfaith Education Guidelines, Baha’i SRI materials, Buddhist Instructor Guide materials, Be-Engaged (Discovering Buddha Sampler), Special Religious Instruction – – Parent Consent Form, NSW Cultural Diversity (Celebrating Together), JCMA Comparative Guide to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Hindu SRI, Discovering Buddha, Code of Conduct, Schools Guide to Ramadan, Simple Guide to Ramadan and Buddhist Volunteer Training Guide.
Top search terms which brought visitors to this site included multifaith group religious instruction, respecting all religions, Sikhism, education program in religious instruction. Pinned to the top of this website are eSafety Guidelines directly addressing the conduct of lessons online in group format.
Schools in New South Wales are required to provide religious education of two distinct types: General Religious Education (GRE) and Special Religious Education (SRE). A number of faith communities have recently engaged with the NSW government about changes to General Religious Education vis-a-vis the new ACARA Australian Curriculum. We may expect similar in other states.
State and Territory Affiliates
In addition to the above initiatives, our state chapters and affiliated bodies continue to be very active, and Professor Samina Yasmeen AM of the University of Western Australia continues to be an observer member of the national RfP executive. Every national executive meeting has had a representative from the Northern Territory since the outbreak of the pandemic. Dr Edwin Lourdes Joseph reports that discussions are being held in Darwin on forming a branch. Across Australia as in the previous year, several events could not be held because of the pandemic.
New South Wales
In New South Wales, the state chapter led by Josie Lacey OAM has continued to have its meetings in the State Parliament House on a quarterly basis, each led with an overview by Walter Secord MLC. Its members come from the Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian (Catholic, Coptic and Protestant), Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and Zoroastrian faith traditions. Among the quarterly speakers were Ian Lacey on the proposal for a Religious Vilification Law, and Norma Ingram, a Wiradjuri elder born in Cowra and a graduate of Harvard University spoke on the Aboriginal Political Movement since the 1960s. Surinder Jain, Vice President of the Hindu Council of Australia also spoke about his faith and a Zoroastrian member of RfP explained his faith and philosophy The Women’s Interfaith Network continues its valuable work to meet regularly for sessions of praying and cordial exchange.
Our South Australian affiliate, the Multifaith Association of South Australia (MFASA) led by Philippa Rowland, continued to advocate for inclusive and interactive sharing within and between faith communities. It has continued in its role of leading action on climate change by promoting the statement on Sacred People, Sacred Earth after six multifaith TEDx events around the world. Philippa also delivered a speech on UN Interfaith Harmony Day to the Philippines on climate change threats and solutions. Among its many activities was an interfaith dialogue with Catholic Archbishop Patrick O’Regan and other faith leaders in the context of the Catholic Plenary Council. In March for the Ukraine invasion, a moving interfaith service of Healing Prayers for a Wounded World was live streamed from St. Francis Xavier’s Cathedral across Australia and Asia. Also, the association has participated in a roundtable discussion on the Federal Religious Discrimination Bill
The very active Tasmanian chapter with Terry Sussmilch as its convenor worked with Tasmanian police, inspired by concerns about the rise of extreme right-wing groups, arranged a workshop on Protecting Our Places of Worship held at the Hobart synagogue. The police wanted faith communities to strengthen their relationships with Tasmania police. Subsequently, safety audits were conducted with six places of Worship (Ethiopian, Hindu, Buddhist Uniting Church, Brahma Kumari’s and Sikh). They have also worked with the police to break down barriers for people of minority faith communities when reporting prejudicially targeted incidents and a training package is being developed. A series of workshops has begun focussed on family violence. Diwali has been celebrated widely and this has become an invaluable process for welcoming new immigrants from the Indian Sub-Continent.
Besides the chaplaincy and video projects mentioned above, RfP Victoria made a submission on the 2021 social cohesion consultation held by the Australian Minister for Migrant and Multicultural Services, highlighting the role of religion in social cohesion and the role of government in the governance of religion and religious diversity. In addition to its work on the Multifaith Chaplaincy Project and its COVID-19 work, the Victorian chapter has continued its membership of the Victoria Police Multifaith Council after the councils restructuring RfP Victoria has continued to be involved in particular with regard to gay conversion practices by any religious group which is now illegal. It also participated in the Set Them Free Initiative led by Melbourne’s Anglican Auxiliary Bishops and the Brotherhood of St. Laurence by targeting swinging electorates to release detainees from detention centres, some of whom had been in detention for 7 – 9 years for migrating illegally to Australia on boats. Many detainees were actually released before the election to our joint joy. In March 2022, Religions for Peace participated in the Victoria Interfaith Network Conference. The chapter has also been linking with the Faith Communities Council of Victoria and its secretary, Rev. Ian Smith has been attending meetings. This council supports the 45 local interfaith networks across Victoria in their activities. It has been engaged in dialogue with the Victorian Government in (i) banning of suppression practices amongst some extremist religious groups for LGTBIQ+ people, the elimination of domestic violence within faith communities and distributing grants to immigrant and refugee communities harshly affected by the pandemic.
Australian Capital Territory
The Canberra Interfaith Forum (CIF) celebrated again the anniversary of the establishment of its Environmental Garden on the banks of Lake Burley Griffin. Seven youth faith groups and an Aboriginal singer presented cultural and spiritual items at the outdoor event and a peace pole ceremony was also performed. CIF is to be congratulated for this remarkable Garden. In June 2021, it held a seminar on ‘The common basis of all faiths and their relevance to current global challenges’. It had a special celebration on International Human Rights Day in December.
Once again I want to thank all the RfP members across Australia for their support and great work during a very difficult time of stress and crisis, now augmented by the events in Afghanistan and the Ukraine. After 21 years in the saddle, I am stepping down from my Australian role because of my election as Moderator of Religions for Peace Asia. My deputy for the first ten years was Professor Gary Bouma AM, who died in August 2021. My tribute is given in Appendix One.
During the 21 years, the major achievements of Religions for Peace Australia have been:
1. Seeing the growth of Religions for Peace Australia beyond Melbourne and Sydney to become a truly national organization with the face-to-face AGMs in Canberra and then online for the last three years. Important to this was 9/11 where Australian society became much more aware that Australia is a multifaith society.
2. The key role that Religions for Peace Australia played in winning the bid and then to organize the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions with 6,500 participants and with Professor Bouma being chair of the organizing committee and Professor Cahill being the Melbourne Program Director.
3. Our participation in the activities of Religions for Peace Asia and Religions for Peace International. Australia is a highly respected chapter, including the World and Asian Assemblies.
4. The myriad of activities that our state and territory affiliates that are organized by and involved in each year by a relative small group of people, and the way we wave the interfaith flag across Australia.
5. The main website and the other two websites and their impact grows by the year and we are deeply indebted to Chris Parnell for all his work.
In particular, I want to thank Sue Ennis for her work as secretary, and the work of Rev. Chris Parnell, our webmaster and all the chairs and secretaries of our affiliated bodies. Our website is certainly the best interfaith site in Asia of all the ACRP websites, if not the world.
Every day, both nationally and internationally, religion continues to figure very prominently in many and varied ways. Our work is important and is part of building a multicultural and interfaith society. But this past year the challenges have been significant. But every crisis presents opportunity and there have been trail-blazing responses to the challenges as well as new initiatives.
Please keep safe and well in these post-Covid-19 days and let us pray and work for peace and the common good.
Desmond Cahill, O.A.M. (Emeritus Professor),
Chair, Religions for Peace Australia,
PROFESSOR GARY BOUMA A.M. – IN MEMORY
by Professor Des Cahill
Yesterday (19/08/2021) we learned of the death of our close friend, Gary Bouma, Emeritus UNESCO Professor of Interreligious and Intercultural Studies at Melbourne’s Monash University. He died peacefully at 4 a.m. in the arms of his beloved Patricia after a difficult year of ill health, not least because of a fall after tripping on an asphalt corrugation in St. Kilda Rd. near his apartment – he ended up for several weeks in the Alfred Hospital in the same ward at the same time as Premier Daniel Andrews after his fall.
He was for a decade my deputy chair of Religions for Peace Australia (RfPA). He was an academic giant, especially in the religious, interfaith and sociological areas, with a global collegiate network. For over three decades with his prestigious and prodigious output, he had been Australia’s leading religious sociologist and was widely recognized as the best interpreter of the Australian census data on religious affiliation.
We have worked closely together since 2001 when we were elected as chair and deputy chair of the Australian chapter of Religions for Peace, the world’s largest interfaith network of religiously committed people working for peace and social cohesion in the 95 member nations.
His U.S. Beginnings
Gary Bouma was born in 1942 into a Dutch American Reformed family in Grand Rapids, Michigan and he arrived in Australia in 1979 to take up his Monash appointment after studying at Calvin Christian University and Princeton Theological Seminary before gaining his Ph.D. at Cornell University. His spiritual odyssey was a little complicated but by 1981 he had been ordained as an Anglican priest with his first appointment as assistant priest at St. John’s, Toorak. Given our similar academic interests and my own background as a former Catholic priest, we ’hit it off’ immediately. He regularly took me off to lunch at the Athenaeum Club on Collins St. where we would meet some of the movers and shakers around Melbourne town.
Soon after our RfPA election, the world dramatically changed with 9/11. Forty days after that cataclysmic event, the International Secretariat of Religions for Peace International in the U.N. Plaza called all its chapter leaders to New York for a three-day briefing session. Such was the pervasive fear the Qantas flight from Los Angeles to New York had only four passengers. New Yorkers were just beginning to come out of their apartments to resume life again but the mood was still very sombre with thousands of floral tributes, especially outside rail and subway stations, including many from those who were forlornly hoping that their loved ones would still come home. And there was much survivor guilt.
We were briefed by the U.N. Deputy Secretary-General, Religions for Peace leaders and other interfaith and religious leaders, and several leading academics and it was a unique opportunity to meet our counterparts from other countries. Our New York togetherness cemented our collegial friendship.
It ended with an interfaith service at the church right on the perimeter of Ground Zero. Its hall had been destroyed by the falling towers and a Greek Orthodox Church had been completely obliterated. Huge, very noisy trucks were carting off the debris in the very still evening air. The prayer service was led by the New York Philharmonic Choir, and the Irish American parish priest told a wonderful story of how a week later a stranger called in and said, “I have come to say sorry”. Taken aback, the priest asked “Why?” It turned out that the man was a Jewish doctor who happened to be passing by as the planes hit the towers. The church was made into a medical staging post, and as victims were brought in, he was looking for bandages. So he tore up the altar cloths. The doctor had come back to apologize for he was aware how sacred the cloths are to Catholics but there was nothing to apologize for. Jesus would have approved, the priest responded!
Religion, Cultural Diversity and Safeguarding Australia
A little later, Gary and I, together with Hass Dellal, the Executive Director of the Australian Multicultural Foundation and our two universities with our researcher Michael Leahy were asked by the Immigration Department to examine how Australia had handled 9/11. Our study took us all around Australia, and Religion, Cultural Diversity and Safeguarding Australia (2004) brought to public attention the notion of multifaith Australia. It was published alongside a monograph on Islam in Australia by Melbourne University’s Professor Abdallah Saaed.
The 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions
In 2006, we were approached by the Melbourne Convention Centre to make a bid for the Parliament of the World’s Religions, the world’s largest interfaith gathering. Armed with $2 million each from John Howard (through Andrew Robb) and from Steve Bracks (through James Merlino and George Lekakis), Bishop Philip Huggins and I led a team to Chicago to win the bid over several other competing teams. Gary would eventually and very successfully chair the organizing committee. He had immense communication and administrative skills and eventually became a deputy vice-chancellor at Monash University though his first loves were researching and teaching. The Parliament with 6,500 participants was the first major event in the brand-new Melbourne Convention Centre held in the first week of December 2009. It took three years of our lives to organize and stage.
2011 Freedom of Religion and Belief in 21st Century Australia
The Australian Human Rights Commission asked us (Bouma, Cahill, Dellal with our researcher Athalia Zwartz) to examine the right to freedom of religion, and so we spoke to religious leaders and government officials around Australia as well as an online public consultation. The study 2011 Freedom of Religion and Belief in 21st Century Australia found that the biggest threats at the time to religious freedom emanated from anti-Muslim and anti-gay sources but generally in Australia religious freedom observance was in good shape.
Victoria Police Multifaith Council
The last time we met face-to-face was in late 2019 at a meeting of the Victoria Police Multifaith Council. The advisory council was formed in 2005 by Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon as part of her community policing policy. We have been foundation members ever since. It meant that we met very regularly at the meetings, and we both got to know many senior police over the years.
Gary was able to make important contributions along the way. During the time when the white supremacists were invading Bendigo to try and prevent the building of a mosque, the police asked us to form a Bendigo Interfaith Council and we were both friendly with Ian Green, the Bendigo Buddhist who has driven the building of the Great Stupa of Universal Compassion. We used our church contacts to achieve the formation of the Bendigo Interfaith Council which helped to defuse the opposition to the mosque.
Gary Bouma leaves behind a formidable legacy in religious and interfaith studies. With his deeply rooted knowledge, his charismatic personality, his capacity to think on his feet and his determination, he was much admired. In any stoush, it was critical to have Gary on side. At the national and the international level, he held leading positions in professional associations in the sociology of religion In 2013, he was finally awarded AM, membership of the Order of Australia. He was deeply spiritual and committed to his Christian faith and his Anglican Church as well as to his university. He was very lovingly partnered and supported by Patricia and his two sons and daughter, and he loved his grandchildren deeply.
May he be welcomed by the good God into eternity where we pray he finds eternal peace and fulfilment. And we give thanks that he made the decision to emigrate to Australia and gave so much to his adopted country. Just over half his life was spent in Australia. By this presence, we were truly graced and blessed, and we give thanks to the Lord Creator.
August 20th, 2021
Tokyo Declaration 2021
The Ninth Governance Assembly
Asian Conference of Religions for Peace (ACRP) /
Religions for Peace Asia
1. The pandemic of COVID-19, which has impacted negatively across all spheres of human activities since late 2019, remains a harsh and deadly challenge against the world’s citizens. People of the many faith communities are also not immune. The COVID-19 virus prohibits us from gathering at churches, temples, mosques and other places of worship and forces us to change the ways of conducting important rituals and practicing of our faith traditions.
2. The Ninth Governance Assembly of the Asian Conference of Religions for Peace/ACRP (hereafter called the Tokyo Assembly) also known as Religions for Peace Asia was originally scheduled to take place in Tokyo, Japan in October 2020, at which we would have celebrated the 50th anniversary of the First World Assembly of Religions for Peace International, held at Kyoto, Japan in 1970. While it was delayed for a year due to the COVID-19; the delay was in no way a setback. We, resonating the vision and mission of ACRP, are convinced that the postponement gave us a valuable opportunity to reaffirm our determination for and commitment to carrying out our concrete actions on the ground. It also gave us an opportunity to hold a special session on the pandemic which led to two recommendations:
Recommendation 1: Asian and Pacific religious leaders strongly encourage their communities in very region to become fully vaccinated for the common good because ‘no-one is safe until all are safe’.
Recommendation 2: Asian and Pacific religious leaders and their communities advocate and promote in collaboration with RfP International in New York the fair and just distribution of the vaccines and their manufacture to prevent the further spread of the COVID-19 virus, especially in the poorer nations.
In light of the pandemic, human security has to be framed in a new way in terms of protection empowerments, new technologies and new freedoms. Also religious communities must fight for the idea that vaccines are global goods and the vaccines have played their critical part in combating C-19, and we compliment the medical research teams.
The 2021 Tokyo Assembly
3. The Tokyo Assembly was convened online for the first time with the center stage being set up in Tokyo from October 17th to 22nd in 2021 under the theme, Asian Religious Communities in Action: Moving towards an Inclusive, Healthy, Prosperous, Peaceful Asia. Representing a wide range of the faith communities in Asia and the Pacific, about 1,500 people, including official delegates, from 21 countries during the past six days, participated in the Tokyo Assembly, which was hosted for the first time by Religions for Peace Japan. ACRP is deeply grateful to the host chapter for its assistance in convening Tokyo Assembly.
4. The Governance Assembly approved a totally revamped Constitution build around the Governance Assembly (124 delegates) and the Executive Council (47 delegates) and added two new bodies, namely, the Advisory Council and the Board of Asian Trustees. It approved the membership of Timor Leste, its newest and smallest member to add to the 21 member nations: Australia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Japan, Korea (Demo. Republic), Korea (Republic of), Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, New Zealand, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Thailand, representing 52 per cent of the world’s population. Representatives from Myanmar participated by zoom either from outside the country or in hiding inside the country.
Our Challenges in Asia
5. Even though the 21st century is said to be ‘the Asian Century’, Asia is not yet at peace and this necessitates genuine efforts for further reconciliation among the Asian nations and their minorities. The people of Asia are seriously concerned about the on-going arms race and the global existential threat posed by nuclear weapons. The Korean Peninsula is still in division as the last afterimage of World War II. Intra-state and inter-state conflicts and confrontations are being witnessed in many parts of Asia. The participants in the Tokyo Assembly are concerned about conflicts and bloodsheds in the Asia-Pacific region.
6. Though tangible economic growth has been achieved in Asia, quite a few countries suffer from economic recession and poor governance, under which the gap between the rich and the poor is widening. Dignity of all forms of life both animate and inanimate in Asia is endangered, therefore, education to raise awareness of the dignity of all forms of life is highly demanded. The voices of people, whose human rights are being violated, should be clearly heard. Problems such as human trafficking, child labor, child marriage and other customary wrong behaviours lead to gender inequality and violate human dignity. Religious, ethnic and cultural diversity are in jeopardy in Asia, and they are being worsened by religious, political and ethnic extremism. The degradation of the environment, which constitutes another attack on the dignity of life, is widespread in Asia. Climate change is labelled now as climate “crisis,” which has posed severe challenges to human survival and development. All countries are the victims of the climate crisis.
The Youth and Women’s Pre-Assemblies
7. The Asian and Pacific Interfaith Youth Network (APYIN), led by the Youth Moderator, Mr. Renz Argao of the Philippines, told of the Youth Peace Camps (2014 – 2019) and their Our Earth, Our Responsibility campaign in accordance with the axiom: We may be young but we are not too young to lead. A ceremony of gratitude was held for those taken away by the tsunami in the Great East Asian Japan Disaster for which the Japanese young people thanked all for their support and the core message, “I must survive” for their precious friends still living in sorrow.
8. The Women’s Pre-Assembly met on 18th. October with the chair, Ms. Elga Sarapung from Indonesia with her co-chair, Dr. Suphamet Yunyasit from Thailand. The central focus was on their human trafficking project which aimed to train local leaders to stop child trafficking and to train the trainers. The nation that fails its women fails as a nation; the faith that fails its women fails as a faith. The subsequent input and discussion was focused on the right to bodily autonomy for ‘my body is my own’ as well as religion and sexuality education because of the unique relationship of religion with community members ‘to break the silence, break the shame, break the stigma’.
Our Reaffirmation for Asia
9. Through intensive discussion, the Tokyo Assembly affirmed that Asia with its rich religious and cultural heritage is ready in countering the aforementioned challenges and even threats. Deeply respecting differences and diversities, the people of Asia, fully cherishing pluralism, have come to realize that we share the sense of family-hood amongst us and are proud of our Asian spiritualities, which call for resonance in human heart and urge us to unite through sharing with and caring for one another. The beauty of Asia is therefore symbolized by such terms, including compassion, tolerance, forgiveness, togetherness and inclusiveness in the context of human relationships and coexistence with nature.
10. The Tokyo Assembly has become a historic landmark in evolving the organization into a movement of implementing concrete actions. In addition, the Tokyo Assembly has become a showcase of the achievements of ACRP’s flagship projects, which constitute such prioritized project areas as 1) human trafficking, 2) education on the dignity of all forms of life, 3) conflict transformation and reconciliation, 4) development and environment, and 5) the advancement of youth leadership. The narratives of success and challenging stories shared by the committed members of ACRP motivated the Assembly participants to advocate transformation for our Asia into a more inclusive, healthy, prosperous and peaceful abode for all the peoples in Asia. We are also convinced that we must commit more to the implementation of a variety of programs/projects: actions, not only words.
11. In retrospect, the preparation for the Tokyo Assembly began with an important principle, which was derived from the widely known Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted at the United Nations in 2015: “Leave nobody behind.” The word, “inclusive,” contained in the sub-themes of the four Commissions, stemmed from the preceding maxim. Constructively benefiting from the keynote addresses and the discussions in Plenaries and Commissions, the Tokyo Assembly became a forum where the ways and means of how we could become a driving-force in contributing to a better Asia have been displayed.
12. The themes of the four Commissions were: (a) Education for Peace and Human Dignity, (b) Human Rights and Well-Being for the Vulnerable, (c) Reconciliation for Social Cohesion drawing on the situations in the Korean Peninsula and Myanmar and (d) Development and the Environment in Diversifying Societies. A late arranged session was given to Afghanistan, drawing on input from Japanese NGOs personnel still in the country.
13. We, the participants in the Tokyo Assembly, hereby reaffirm that ACRP is a multi-religious organization, which promotes common actions amongst faith traditions and religious communities across Asia and the Pacific working for peace, religious harmony and community cohesion as this multi-religious cooperative organization is working for peace at regional, national and local levels. This is the hallmark of ACRP. Through ACRP activities, diverse religious communities in Asia discern “deeply held and widely shared” moral values such as peace and reconciliation, promoting the dignity of all forms of life, constructing just and harmonious societies, advancing sustainable development goals. ACRP is determined to translate these spiritual and moral ideals into concrete actions. As the members of religious communities across Asia, we make a unique contribution to the promotion and actualization of peace in Asia, based upon our grassroots communal reach, our spiritualities and our abilities to work across ethic and religious boundaries.
14. It was highlighted in the Women’s Pre-Assembly that women are the agents of change but face challenges like gender inequality, economic injustice and human rights violation. Some of the concrete steps identified to overcome these challenges were: education for all men and women on gender rights, justice awareness and capacity building on all tiers of the society and government including regulated use of social media platforms.
15. ACRP values the important role that the youth play in dealing with the issues we face and that they are vital partners in our mission. We commit to continuously encourage, empower, and engage the youth in our work. We pledge to create a platform for youth involvement and our support in their projects and programs.
16. Being fully mindful that the Tokyo Assembly is a platform where we reaffirm what we have accomplished in terms of our engagements in concrete activities, we exchanged our inspirational views both on Flagship Projects and COVID-19 and Asia’s Religious Communities. For instance, the backdrop of our action stems from Asian spiritualities. In accordance with a paradigm shift whenever it occurs, people of the faith communities may respond to the change in order to give adequate assistance for the vulnerable and the wounded. In addition, we could listen to the voices of those who live in the countries in trouble such as Afghanistan, Myanmar and the two Koreas. As a result, we did reaffirm that we redouble our efforts in carrying out humanitarian assistance in those countries.
Call for our Common Actions in Asia
17. Through the intensive discussions in Plenaries and in Commissions, further very useful and pragmatic recommendations were tabled. We, the members of ACRP, are hereby determined to carry out the following recommendations:
Recommendation 3: ACRP and its 22 national chapters aim to promote, advocate and implement through interreligious dialogue and collaboration the ACRP flagship projects, namely 1) Awareness Raising of the Dignity of All Forms of Lives, 2) Anti-Human Trafficking, 3) Peacebuilding and Reconciliation, 4) Protection of the Environment and 5) Youth Leadership Development.
Recommendation 4: ACRP and its 22 national chapters aim to be fully committed to and implement through interreligious dialogue and collaboration the programs/projects/activities to be articulated in the ACRP new Action Plan.
Recommendation 5: ACRP and its 22 national chapters aim to generate funds to carry out the flagship and other projects and utilize the Board of Asian Trustees, which will be formed in due course.
Recommendation 6: ACRP aims to engage the youth members in decision-making processes at all levels as the youth are not only the ‘hope’ for the future but also the ‘hope’ of the present.
Recommendation 7: ACRP will engage women in decision-making process at all levels as change makers along with men, as they complement each other.
Recommendation 8: ACRP will implement humanitarian activities for the people of the Democratic Republic of Korea through the Korean Council of Religionists in collaboration with the Korean Conference of Religions for Peace (KCRP). We promote the process for the signing of a peace treaty between the two Koreas. Peace education be advocated for achieving peace on the Korean Peninsula.
Recommendation 9: ACRP will make committed efforts in peacebuilding and reconciliation for Afghanistan, Myanmar and other countries, where the victimized and the marginalized raise their cries. We continue to pray and commit our actions to realize peace, rapprochement and social cohesion for the peoples of these countries in deep sorrow and devastation.
Recommendation 10: ACRP and its national chapters will engage in the activities for the elimination of nuclear weapons and in the discussion of the pros and cons on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and to advocate conversion of the defence budget towards funds for promoting peace related activities.
Recommendation 11: ACRP and its national chapters will advocate with governments, international organizations and faith communities for peace dialogue on inclusiveness, togetherness and environmental protection also using social media platforms in a positive way such as peace videos, presenting position papers, public rallies, prayers, conferences, seminars and webinars.
Recommendation 12: ACRP will network and engage in global partnerships in line with the SDGs to promote solidarity, cooperation and sharing of best practices with one another.
Recommendation 13: ACRP’s 22 national chapters will reiterate the social responsibility of the religious communities, (i) by actively carrying out interreligious dialogue and cooperation, and advocate the spirit of equality, respect, inclusiveness and mutual learning. (ii) take concrete action to implement the principles and strategic actions of ACRP, including reach consensus and make joint efforts to address climate change, protect the environment, and create a sound ecological environment, bearing it in mind that peace education and environmental education need to be linked, and (iii) jointly build a community of all life on earth, and leave behind a clean world for future generations.
Recommendation 14: ACRP at an organizational and communication level (i) will work towards each chapter having its own website in its national language and English (ii) examine a proposal to have sub-regional groupings of chapters (iii) to improve liaison with RfP International and other regional entities, such as regional UN agencies and (iv) develop a network of universities and academic institutions with expertise in religious and interreligious studies.
Recommendation 15: National chapters develop and share plans for action of climate, development and the environment and encourage communities to adopt lifestyle changes on energy, transport, food and divestment.
Recommendation 16: ACRP’s national chapters each develop various initiatives that focus on Asian spiritualities and their traditions that highlight their values and their traditions and the value of religion as contributing to a nation’s social wealth and an individual’s spiritual and psychological well-being.
18. These recommendations mesh with the six strategic goals of Religions for Peace International: (a) Promote peaceful, just and inclusive societies (b) Advance gender equality (c) Nurture a sustainable environment (d) Champion freedom of thought, conscience and religion (e) Strengthen interreligious education and (f) Foster multi-religious collaboration and global partnerships.
ACRP is grateful to RfP Japan for its generous contribution of ¥30,000,000 (approximately US$ 273,000) to the implementation of the ACRP flagship projects within the scope of the coming five years and for its support of the ACRP secretariat.
Adopted at the Ninth Governance Assembly of ACRP
on October 22nd, 2021
NEW ACRP LEADERSHIP
Australia/China Duo Elected to Head Asia-Pacific’s Leading Interfaith Agency
Australian and Chinese interfaith leaders have been unanimously elected by the Governance Assembly to lead for a five-year term the Asian Conference of Religions for Peace (ACRP), also known as Religions for Peace Asia, the Asia-Pacific’s most important interfaith organization with its headquarters in Tokyo. Elected as moderator for 2021-2025 is Emeritus Professor Desmond Cahill, Professor of Intercultural Studies at RMIT University in Melbourne. He is currently Chair of Religions for Peace Australia (www.religionsforpeaceaustralia.org.au) and had worked for more than two decades in cementing interreligious relations in Australia and across Asia. Educated in Melbourne and Rome, he worked pastorally for the Catholic Church during the 1970s before embarking on an academic career in ethnic and religious diversity and cross-cultural communication.
Elected as deputy moderator has been Mr. Deng Zhongliang, Executive Vice-President of the China Committee in Religion and Peace and who, over the past decade, has shown a strong interest in environmental issues.