Faith Doesn't Make Us Good but By God it Makes us Better - PM Tony Abbott

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
26 Jun 2015

Prime Minister Tony Abbott with Fr Michael Zamer (left) and His Grace Bishop Daniel (right) of the Coptic Orthodox Church

Accepting differences of culture and faith has been fundamental to the success of multiculturalism in Australia, Dr Stepan Kerkyasharian told politicians and interfaith leaders at the Australian Catholic University's inaugural Interfaith Prayer Breakfast held at Old Parliament House, Canberra last week.

President of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board, and keynote speaker at the Interfaith Prayer Breakfast, Dr Kerkyasharian said it was not enough to be tolerant.

"Acknowledgement and acceptance must underpin the fabric of our society if we are to coexist at a time of increased uncertainty, prejudice and fear," he said. "The reality is that religions, whilst aspiring to be the highest and purest of ideals of human co-existence, have different messages, different pathways."

Dr Kerkyasharian urged those who attended Canberra's first Interfaith Breakfast to "seek to know, understand and accept our differences because those differences are the essential elements of our religious traditions. They will not change, so let us accept them and get on with getting on!"

Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten were among the more than 200 Canberra politicians, religious and community leaders who attended the Breakfast.

Chaldean Bishop Amel Nona greets Archbishop Christopher Prowse of the Canberra and Goulburn Archdiocese

"Faith matters, and these days it is more important than ever that we have faith," the Prime Minister said in an address of welcome. "Faith doesn't make us good but, by God, it makes us better," he said, pointing out there is a judge over all of us who is "greater than those who are sitting in judgement of us today."

Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten also spoke, describing the diversity of faiths represented at the Breakfast as a celebration of the unity of modern multicultural Australia.

"We worship many faiths but as Australians we all share a common belief: the belief that everyone is welcome and everyone is equal," he said.

Canberra's Interfaith Prayer Breakfast was an initiative of ACU Chancellor, Professor Greg Craven to provide an opportunity for the leaders of different faiths to join with Federal politicians to reflect on the important role faith plays in our everyday lives, and in making sense of our world.

ACU Director of Govt Policy at Strategy Julian Leeser with Ven Tenpa Bjeanke Duim, Mirza Sharif Maulana and Mashood Shahid

A wide range of different faiths were represented at the Breakfast. These included leaders from Australia's Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh and Baha'i communities together with leaders from Roman Catholic, Baptist, the Salvation Army, the Uniting Church, the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Chaldean Catholic Church, the Wesley Mission Eparchy and other Christian denominations.

During the Interfaith Prayer Breakfast seven faith leaders delivered readings on leadership, governance, and service. They were Imam Hassan Elsetohy, General Secretary of the Council of Imams NSW; the Reverend Myung Hwa Park, Moderator, Synod of NSW and the ACT, Uniting Church in Australia;  Rabbi Ralph Genende, Senior Rabbi to the Australian Defence Forces and Senior Rabbi at the Caulfield Hebrew Congregation; Dr Natalie Mobini, Director, Office of External Affairs, Baha'i Centre; His Grace Haigazoun Najarian, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church in Australia; the Most Rev Christopher Prowse, Archbishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn; His Grace Bishop Daniel, Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Sydney and Affiliated Regions.

Until now, interfaith prayer breakfasts have not been a tradition in Australia. However ACU intends to change this and hopes to make last week's Interfaith Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast a regular feature of Australia's political, religious and university calendar.

At ACU's Interfaith Parliamentary breakfast (l to r) are Imam Hassan Elsetohy Khodr Saleh Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohammed Rabbi Ralph Genende

"The Catholic intellectual tradition promotes the engagement and understanding of people of different faiths," Professor Craven says and believes the opportunity for leaders across the political and religious spectrum to share a meal together is an invaluable experience and promotes a unity of spirit across political and faith boundaries.

The date of the ACU's inaugural Interfaith Prayer Breakfast last week was carefully chosen. Not only did the date, 17 June, occur midway through World Refugee Week but it also marked the 50th anniversary of Vatican II's ground-breaking Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions. Known as Nostra Aetate, the Declaration was promulgated by Pope Paul VI and the second Vatican Council on 28 October 1965.