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 6 June 2021. 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 – 2020-2021
ABN 49 320 161 142
Religions for Peace Australia
Annual Report – 2020-2021
RfP Australia and the C-19 Pandemic
My last 2019 – 2020 report was prepared exactly twelve months ago for the online Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Australian chapter of Religions for Peace (June 6th, 2020) and for the online annual executive meeting of the Asian Conference of Religions for Peace (ACRP) when the COVID-19 pandemic had completely changed the world. Although we had thought the pandemic would be behind us by the time of this 2021AGM, such has not been the case. Melbourne, as the Australian city most affected, is currently in its fourth lockdown. 2020-2021 has been a difficult year with one serious setback in Queensland as well as dealing with the pandemic.
As I reported last year, by any measure Australia has done remarkably well in combatting the virus. Last year, I 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 almost a year later (see Table One).
In June 2020, Religions for Peace Australia made a detailed submission to the Senate Committee for COVID-19 (see Appendix One), endeavouring to map a way forward, not least in economic terms and giving scope for the development of energy renewal measures in the task of creating a green economy. In May 2021, Religions for Peace Australia publicised a Statement on Overcoming Vaccine Hesitancy, (Appendix Two) to encourage people to have one of the vaccines.
Religions for Peace also received a grant of $11,500 from the Victorian Government through the Australian Multicultural Community Services to update its video equipment, employ technical support personnel and to prepare a series of short videos on combatting the pandemic. One looked at mental health and spirituality issues during the pandemic crisis, a second examined the history of interfaith interaction in Australia and a third looked at combatting racism and stigmatization of certain groups, especially Asian groups, during the pandemic. Religions for Peace Australia also worked with the UNESCO Chair in Bioethics in holding weekly webinars in many aspects of the pandemic, including religion where we worked with the RfP India delegate, Professor Deepali Bhanoth, an expert in Hinduism and Sanskrit (see report in Appendix Three).
The highlights of the year were the 2021 U.N. Interfaith Week Address and the First Interfaith National Day of Prayer held on 18th October 2020 and there was one major setback as already mentioned.
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. It, in tandem with two parliamentarians, Maria Vamvakinou (Labor) and Russell Broadbent (Liberal Conservative) 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 it was relayed via zoom across Australia. He 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-Baumann, educator and artist of the Ngan’gityemerri language group.
National Interfaith Prayer Day
On the 18th October, 2020, under the leadership of Chris Parnell, Religions for Peace Australia held a National Interfaith Prayer online session across Australia. This was the first time this had occurred, using the zoom technology. Later on, special prayers from the different traditions were held with the title, Prayers in Times of Crisis and Danger.
Closure of Griffith University’s Centre for Interfaith Dialogue and Culture
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.
The Centre, with its links across the world, has been a source of knowledge and action in the pursuit of its multifaith mission. It has highlighted how, as social research has demonstrated, faith communities, on balance notwithstanding the negativities and the extremism, add to a nation’s social capital and social wealth; faith communities that are led by leaders in the spirit of religious moderation contribute to social cohesion, not least in a multicultural country such as Australia. Faith commitment necessarily means positive inter-faith engagement. Hence, the closing of the Centre for Interfaith Dialogue and Culture is a severe loss to Australia, to Asia and to the world.
In recent times Dr. Brian Adams has been at its helm. He has been its heart and soul and he provided wonderful and farsighted leadership based on his personal and professional experience, obviously in the U.S. but from many other parts of the world, including Tanzania, Mali and other West African countries. But his greatest achievement which brought great honour and global standing to Griffith University and to Religions for Peace Australia has been his founding of the G20 Interfaith Summit alongside the G20 Summits of the leaders of the world’s 20 leading economies. The first one was held on the Gold Coast in Queensland in 2014 alongside the G20 meeting in Brisbane. That annual tradition continues today and that has not been without its challenges along the way. This is Australia’s greatest gift to the global interfaith movement, and Griffith’s Centre was the key player led by Brian. The Centre is truly a victim of the pandemic. And we mourn its loss with Brian and all those who worked with and supported the Centre.
Multifaith Chaplaincy Project
Last year we reported that Religions for Peace Australia had received funding of $22,000 each year for a two-year 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 is being compiled before approaching the recently arrived religious communities.
Part of the project has been to establish a special website, Multifaith Chaplaincy Australia, by our very committed webmaster, Rev. Chris Parnell. This website remains in its infancy and is now averaging 15 visitors daily with most visitors coming from Australia. Visitors have, unusually, tended to stay longer than 15 minutes. Chaplaincy material on the pandemic has been especially popular.
The impact of COVID-19 and chaplaincy can be observed from the annual statistics. Many resources and narratives about chaplains and providing services during the pandemic have been placed on this site.
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 had comprehensive page reads. The foundation of this site has been vigorously pursued by – in the main – chaplaincy professionals and chaplaincy/pastoral educators.
Top downloads on this site included the Islamic Centre of Victoria Handbook for Caring for Muslim Patients, the Kantar School Chaplaincy report, Guide for Movement Chaplains, Caring for those who care, The Corona pandemic as challenge for those who care, Cert IV in Chaplaincy Flyer, Position Description for Muslim Chaplain, Capability Framework (Spiritual Care Australia) and Contemporary Paganism and Chaplains.
The Forthcoming ACRP Assembly
RfP Australia has been heavily involved with the Asian Conference of Religions for Peace (Religions for Peace Asia), particularly in the preparations for the Asian Assembly which had to be re-scheduled from October 2020 in Tokyo to an online and scaled-down Assembly scheduled for October 19th. – 22nd., 2021. Because of the pandemic, an additional session on the pandemic has been added, and the theme was changed to Asian Religious Communities in Action: Moving towards an Inclusive, Healthy, Prosperous, Peaceful Asia. The New Constitution has been finalized, and terms of reference for the new Advisory Council and the ACRP Board of Trustees are being prepared.
Australia has been specially honoured that our secretary, Dr Sue Ennis, has been chosen to be the resource person for the Commission No. One on Education for Peace and Human Dignity and Philippa Rowland, head of our South Australian affiliate, has been chosen to be the resource person for Commission No. Four on Development and the Environment in Diversifying Societies.
New and Continuing International and Australian Partnerships
As indicated in previous years, our links with GreenFaith/Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (ARRCC) have continued to grow, specially with Thea Omerod, ARRCC’s leader, and Living the Change initiatives have continued, especially in South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria. A special event was the Sacred People, Sacred Earth celebration in which Australia joined with 420 events in 49 countries. As well, much groundwork was done on the divestment issue to encourage divestment from companies that still support fossil fuels, “aligning your faith with your finance”.
As part of the 50th. year celebrations of Religions for Peace International, Australia participated in October in an online conference, Faith for Nature, jointly sponsored by the United Nations Environment Program, the Government of Iceland and RfP (International and Asia). It was led off with a prayer by the Japanese Anglican Archbishop and included a presentation by Cardinal Bo of Yangon. The very active Japanese chapter presented its Climate Emergency Declaration, and presentations came from all continents.
Also the Australian chapter has been at the centre of the process to resuscitate the New Zealand chapter. Negotiations are now proceeding to enable the Religious Diversity Trust in Auckland informally attached to the University of Otago to become the New Zealand national chapter.
Australia was an active participant in an online conference sponsored by the China Committee of Religions for Peace on Solidarity and Co-operation: Multi-Religious Response to COVID-19 and Shared Well-Being. The various Chinese and other religious leaders stressed how religion can have a positive value in prevailing over the virus. Leaders of the Australian and Chinese chapters of Religions for Peace subsequently met in March 2021to discuss Chinese chairship of Commission No. Four on Development and the Environment and how to increase China’s role in ACRP and the work of the Tokyo secretariat.
Philippa Rowland participated as a speaker in ACRP’s Asia-Pacific two-day consultation on Women, Faith and Diplomacy, also as part of the golden jubilee in October, 2020. She spoke on climate change, zootic diseases and animal pathogens. Many speakers, in speaking of the trafficking of women and girls, highlighted the U.N’s 4 Ps: prevention, protection, prosecution and partnership. Diplomacy is not just for the diplomats and women have to play a greater role in addressing the key issues.
Throughout 2020, there was great emphasis on Interreligious Councils (IRCs) with seminars held by by RfP International and ACRP under the leadership of the RfP Secretary-General, Professor Azza Karam. Every chapter is encouraged to have a fully functioning IRC in its own country and the document produces a worthwhile typology of IRCs. She said that religious silos have to be avoided, and stressed the need to have a better financial base for the work of the IRCs.
Our website, 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.
Religions for Peace Australia Website 2020
The average number of daily visitors was 166. The majority of visitors came from Australia, 125,688 visits from Australia making 1,129,655 hits on site, which implies they are looking at an average of 8-9 pages per visit. After Australia, the visitors rank (in visits) USA, India, Great Britain, Germany, Unknown, Ukraine, Russian Federation, China, Canada. “Unknown” are the visitors who use their own VPN or a private window in browsing.
The top downloads for the year were (in order) Muslim Australians, Golden Rule for Interfaith, Diverse Faiths of Tasmania, Child Sex Abuse and the Catholic Church, Multifaith Calendar, Religions for Peace Refugees and Migrants Guide, Chaplaincy and Specialist Spiritual Care in Multifaith Victoria (Overview), Living the Change in Multicultural Australia, Australian Multicultural Commission Interfaith Report, Living the Change Seminar, Religion and Social Cohesion in Australia – an overview.
The top search terms which has brought visitors to the site include “religions for peace australia”, interfaith dialogue in australia, religions for peace, interfaith, peace, prayer, covid, dialogue, halal and religion.
Multifaith Education Australia Website 2020
The average number of daily visitors was 20. The impact of Covid and home-schooling can be seen as parents and teachers have been searching for home schooling materials in their faith. The majority of visitors came from Australia, 8,842 visits for the year, who read pages 23,764 times looking at an average of 3 pages per visit. After Australia, the visitors were in rank order according to the number of visits, from the US, Sweden, Canada, Great Britain, Germany, Russian Federation, India, China, Ukraine, Japan and then the EU.
The top downloads for this site were the Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission Interfaith Education Guidelines, Baha’i SRI program materials, Hindu SRI, Discovering Buddha (SRI program), JCMA Comparative Guide to Judaism, Christianity, Islam, RfP Code of Conduct, Beirut Declaration on Faith for Rights, Our Stories (Jewish Commitment to a Better World) and the Special Religious Instruction – Parent Consent Form.
Top search terms which bring visitors to this site include multifaith group religious instruction, respecting all religions, Sikhism, education program in religious instruction
Once again, the majority of visitors come from Australia, with 6502 Australian visitors looking at pages 26,350 times, suggesting that these visitors were looking at 4 pages per visit. Strong interest in this site comes from the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Germany, Vietnam, Italy, India, China and European Country, followed by France and The Netherlands.
State and Territory Affiliates
In addition to the above initiatives, our state chapters and affiliated bodies continue to be very active, and Professor Sameena Yasmine of the University of Western Australia has become 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. Edwin Lourdes Joseph reports that discussions are being held in Darwin to forming a branch, and the Northern Territory Government Administrator has agreed to hold a reception to launch the branch in the near future. Across Australia several events could not be held because of the pandemic.
New South Wales
In New South Wales, the state chapter led by Josie Lacey 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 speakers were the Venerable Gayatriprani who spoke about Diwali and a Zoroastrian, Zarir Bamji, spoke of his faith that is not well understood in Australia. Adjunct Professor George Newhouse, CEO of the National Justice Project, spoke on the issue of Aboriginal deaths in custody. The Women’s Interfaith Network continues its valuable work to meet regularly for sessions of praying and cordial exchange.
A milestone achievement representing the voice of youth under the leadership of Fr. Patrick McInerney, a member of RfP New South Wales and director of the Columban Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations was the publication of The Sydney Statement (www.thesydneystatement.org.au), prepared by the youth of Sydney as an interfaith charter for building bridges between believers from different religions through commitments to a Dialogue of Life, a Dialogue of Action, a Dialogue of Knowledge, a Dialogue of Religious Experience and an Intra-Faith Dialogue.
Following the closure of the Griffith University interfaith centre, negotiations have begun to have a replacement affiliate body to represent the State of Queensland.
In addition to its work on the Multifaith Chaplaincy Project and its COVID-19 work, the Victorian chapter organized its own Living with Change event in September with ARRCC and URI, and has continued its membership of the Victoria Police Multifaith Council after its restructuring. The chapter has also been linking with the Faith Communities Council of Victoria.
Our South Australian affiliate, the Multifaith Association of South Australia (MFASA) led by Philippa Rowland, engaged in leading interfaith prayers and celebrations. Aside from its Living the Change and divestment initiatives, MFASA has become more diverse in its faiths profile, and this has enabled it to strengthen its relationships with faith communities.
After the red letter year of 2019 – 2020, the vibrant Tasmanian chapter with Terry Sussmilch as its convenor pushed ahead with the Australian Compassion Council to declare Hobart as a Compassionate City. This remains a work in progress. The newly formed Tasmanian Faith Communities Network met in March with 12 participants to commemorate the Christchurch massacre as well as Harmony Week and to discuss key issues regarding Leading Faith Communities in Difficult Times. The Anglican Dean of St. David’s Cathedral spoke of the Show Hope event as a way of overcoming people’s anxiety and showing resilience. He spoke of his own leadership fatigue. Master Wang of the Tantrayana Buddhist tradition spoke of raising $110,000 to help those in need. The lead chaplain of the Tasmanian Emergency Services Ministry remarked how C-19 had changed everything. As part of this, RfP Tasmania had worked with the migrant support network during the pandemic.
The Tasmanian members participated in the Eid festival, a pandemic vigil for India and the Jewish Day of Holocaust Commemoration. As well, the Tasmanian chapter joined in the interfaith service for nuclear disarmament on Hiroshima Day.
Besides the chaplaincy and video projects mentioned above, RfP Victoria made a submission (see Appendix Four) 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. RfP Victoria continued its membership of the Victoria Police Multifaith Council, especially in regard to gay conversion practices by any religious group which is now illegal.
As well as its joint organization of the U.N. Interfaith Week address, the Canberra Interfaith Forum (CIF) celebrated in April 2021 the tenth 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 will hold a seminar on ‘The common basis of all faiths and their relevance to current global challenges’.
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. 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 in Asia of all the ACRP websites, if not the world. Our balance sheet is in a reasonably healthy state with a balance of $AUD42,431.15 in the two bank accounts.
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 C-19 days, and work for the common good.
Desmond Cahill, O.A.M. (Emeritus Professor),
Chair, Religions for Peace Australia,
This file contains the following appendices:
One: Submission to the Senate Committee on COVID-19
Two: Overcoming Vaccine Hesitancy
Three: UNESCO Webinar on Religion and COVID-19
Four: Social Cohesion submission
THE PRACTICE OF DADIRRI: ABORIGINAL CONTEMPLATIVE LISTENING
Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann AM
Senior Australian of the Year 2021
Our Aboriginal culture has taught us to be still and to wait, we do not try to hurry things…..
We wait on God. His time is the right time. We wait for his word to be made clear to us. We don’t worry. We are River people. We cannot hurry the river. We have to move with its current and understand its ways.
We hope that the people of Australia will wait. Not so much waiting for us – to catch up – but waiting with us, as we find our pace in this world.
There is much pain and struggle as we wait. The Holy Father, John Paul II, understood this when he said to us: “If you stay closely united, you are like a tree, standing in the middle of a bushfire sweeping through the timber. The leaves are scorched and the tough bark is scarred and burnt; but inside the tree the sap is still flowing, and under the ground the roots are still strong. Like that tree, you have endured the flames, and you still have the power to be reborn”.
As the Holy Father said, it is time for re-birth. Jesus comes to fulfil, not to destroy. If our culture is alive and strong and respected, it will grow. It will not die.
We know that in time and in the spirit of dadirri – that deep listening and quiet stillness – his way will be clear. We are asking our fellow Australians to take the time to know us; to be still and listen to us. And I believe that the spirit of dadirri that we have to offer will blossom and grow, not just within ourselves, but in our whole nation.
Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann, born in 1950, was baptized in 1965. She became the Northern Territory’s first indigenous teacher. She was for many years principal of St. Francis Xavier School at Daley River.