Iftar Dinner a Priority for Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
10 Jun 2016

Despite a rigorous rehabilitation schedule during his recovery from illness, the Archbishop of Sydney, the Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP was committed to keeping an important event in his calendar this week, the annual Iftar dinner which he hosts in his home during the month of Ramadan.

The Archbishop was pleased to welcome more than 70 guests including the Grand Mufti of Australia and President of the Council of Imams, Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohamed as well as many religious leaders and representatives.

"You are always welcome in my house!" the Archbishop expressed to his guests who represented faith traditions including the Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist communities as well as other Christian churches such as the Orthodox, Uniting and Lutheran.

For years the Archdiocese of Sydney has enjoyed strong interfaith and ecumenical relations with the various faith communities and the annual Iftar dinner expresses the friendship and mutual respect particularly between Catholic leaders and those of the Islamic faith and generally amongst people of faith.

The evening began with a heartfelt welcome to country by Aboriginal elder and respected leader in the Catholic community, Dr Elsie Heiss.

Archbishop Fisher thanked his many friends present who had expressed their support and prayers during his time of illness.

"I give thanks to the Almighty and Merciful God that I have recovered sufficiently from my recent illness to be able to host this dinner tonight and I want to take this opportunity to thank you all for the many messages of prayerful support that I received from the leaders and faithful of various religions. That support, like this annual gathering, are important indications of the freedom of and respect for religion that we have long cherished in Australia and of the mutual respect, indeed affection, that our faith traditions have for one another in this city."

The Archbishop then emphasised the importance for people of all faiths to join in solidarity on the crucial issues of the day that concern our society. He appealed to those present to consider the issue of same-sex marriage and its implications for religious freedom as well as the controversial 'Safe Schools Program' which, under the cover of being an anti-bullying program, openly promotes an extreme position of sexuality as entirely fluid and would seek to impose such notions upon all children from as young as 5 years of age.

"We could all point to other examples of public policy and ethics which challenge our faith communities at this time. It will be crucial that we work together where we can as people of faith, knowing that unless we hang together we will be hanged separately. Tonight's dinner is an important sign not just of our respect for each other's religious beliefs but of our solidarity and common determination to ensure that faith is given a similar respect in our civil society going forward."

The Grand Mufti responded in his address by expressing his heartfelt gratitude to Archbishop Fisher along with his support for his recovery.

"I praise God he has blessed Archbishop Fisher with a recovery, granting him good health and well being, allowing him to return to lead his community" said Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohammed.

"He truly is a brother and a great friend to those who know him."

The Grand Mufti went on to address three points beginning with what all faiths in Australia share in common, being a loyalty and love for this great land and its values. Secondly he emphasised the principle that Islam imposes on all believers which requires that the beliefs of others are sacred and to be respected. Finally, he focussed on the virtue of hope that ought to be shared by people of faith for this land and all its citizens.

Islamic guests along with the Grand Mufti of Australia, Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohammed included Mr Hafez Kassem, President of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils; and other leaders and representatives of the Muslim community.

Rabbi Dr Benjamin Elton, Chief Minister of the Great Synagogue of Sydney represented the Jewish community along with Rabbi Jacqueline Ninio of the Emanuel Synagogue; Mr Jeremy Spinak, President of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies; Mr Peter Wertheim, Executive Director of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry; and other leaders or representatives of the Jewish community.

Guests representing the Christian communities included His Eminence Archbishop Paul Saliba of the Antiochian Orthodox Church; Very Rev Fr Kyrillos Zisis, representing His Eminence Archbishop Stylianos of the Greek Orthodox Church; Rev Fr Avedis Hambardzumyan of the Armenian Apostolic Church, representing His Excellency Bishop Najarian; Rev. Frs Yousef Fanous and Shenouda Mansour of the Coptic Orthodox Church; Rev. Mark Lieschke of the Lutheran Church; and Ms Wilma Viswanathan of the Uniting Church.

Catholic representatives included Msgr Marcelino Youssef, Vicar General of the Maronite Eparchy of Australia, representing His Excellency Bishop Antoine Tarabay; Rev. Fr Gerges Albutros of the Melkite Eparchy of Australia, representing His Excellency Bishop Robert Rabbat; Bishop Terry Brady Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney; Very Rev. Don Richardson, Dean of St Mary's Cathedral; and Sr Dr Giovanni Farquar RSJ, Executive Director of the Archdiocese of Sydney's Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission; and other leaders within or members of the Catholic Church.

Representatives from Government included Mr Stepan Kerkyasharian, Chairman of the New South Wales Anti-discrimination Board; Hon. Scott Farlow MLC, representing the Minister for Multiculturalism; Hon. Sophie Cotsis, Shadow Minister for Multiculturalism; Mr John McCarthy QC, Former Ambassador of Australia to the Holy See; along with Indigenous leaders and other leaders and representatives of civil society.

Read the full text of Archbishop Fisher's address here.

Read the full text of the Grand Mufti's address here.