Australia’s multiculturalism a “gift to be preserved”

Bishop Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot

The leader of a Vatican delegation that has just completed a visit to Australia was delighted by the efforts of local Church organisations to enhance interfaith dialogue, education and understanding.

Spanish Bishop Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, said he was very happy with what he had seen in Australia and could reconfirm the existing spirit of multiculturalism.

“Australia is very multicultural, which is a gift to be preserved, because when we look at other parts of the world, we see how sometimes we lose this precious gift and we enter into conflict and exclusivism,” he said.

“It is very important to value this gift (of multiculturalism) at this time. Multiculturalism is supported by the contributions and values existing in different cultures coming from different religious traditions. Therefore, cultures and religions are not problems.”

Reflecting on the delegation’s visit to western Sydney and a diocese with 150 cultures, Bishop Ayuso encouraged all Australian Catholic communities to enhance religious dialogue and collaboration with other faith communities to build social cohesion while serving those in need.

“Pope Francis is promoting a culture of encounter and that there be an attitude of openness – to be open to other faiths in respect and friendship,” Bishop Ayuso said.

“Today, as we look at the world, we see Pope Francis is constantly appealing to and calling to the international community for the accepting and welcoming of all kinds of refugees. His message to the entire world is to be very sensitive to the reality that every person is my brother and my sister and, therefore, we must respect every human person.”

Bishop Ayuso said education was the key to create a loving, just and accepting society.

“Dialogue means we have to remain fully in our own identity … not a melting pot, but a lovely mixed salad. We must avoid relativism and remain deeply rooted in our own religious traditions,” he said.

Bishop Ayuso said a profound education in one’s own Catholic faith and being well informed about other religions was required to achieve interfaith harmony.

“Fear is the greatest enemy of dialogue. If we want to transform our world, we have to think of our sons and daughters and the new generation in terms of the education of values; basic ethical principles to lead us to respectful acceptance with the other,” he said.

Canberra-Goulburn Archbishop Christopher Prowse, chair of the Bishops Commission for Ecumenism and Inter-religious Relations, accompanied the Vatican delegation of Bishop Ayuso (an expert in Islam); Msgr Indunil Kodithuwakku, a Sri Lankan who follows relations with Buddhists; Msgr Santiago Michael, from India, who follows relations with Hindus, Sikhs and Jains; and Father Markus Solo SVD, from Indonesia, who follows the relations with Muslims in the Asia and Pacific regions.

During their trip to Australia, the delegation visited Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne.

They met interfaith leaders, Indigenous elders and members of Sydney’s Indigenous community, members of Ecumenical and Interfaith Commissions in Sydney and Melbourne, the Bishops Commission for Ecumenism and Inter-religious Relations, the Australian Catholic Council for Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue and educational leaders at the Australian Catholic University campuses in Sydney and Melbourne.

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