TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: everyone belongs

Transform us as you transfigured,
stood apart on Tabors’s height.
Lead us up our sacred mountains,
search us with revealing light.
Lift us from where we have fallen,
Full of questions, filled with fright.

These are the words of a hymn which we sang at our Cathedral this weekend, for the Second Sunday of Lent. The words were written by David Haas in his Song of the Transfiguration.

In light of the events in Christchurch, New Zealand on Friday, these words spoke to me of humanity’s need to be continually transformed. It also spoke to me of our need to have mountaintop experiences.

Last week I wrote of our own pain, grief and suffering around sexual abuse by some individuals in our church and the impact that is having on so many and now this week all of us are feeling the pain, grief and suffering because of the violence poured out upon the Muslim community, while they were in their sacred place at prayer.

On Saturday night, it was good to gather with hundreds of people at the Mayfield Mosque. People needed to be with each other, to express their support, solidarity and prayer with the Muslim people who call Newcastle home. We, the Catholic Church, have many friends at this mosque and they were pleased that we were with them in their disbelief and grief. Throughout the weekend many people dropped flowers off at the mosque as an expression of friendship and sympathy. Religious and civic leaders were also present and spoke of our love and compassion for those of the Islamic faith. Sheik Mohammed quoted passages from the Quran about love, compassion, peace and harmony. The overarching message was that there is no place for violence, hatred, racism or extremism.

On Sunday morning I handed out orange ribbons at our Cathedral, because of the commencement of Harmony Week, which celebrates cultural diversity. Each year Harmony Day falls on 21 March, it coincides with the United Nations, International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. It also occurs on this day because of the March equinox – equal day and equal night. The Spring equinox occurs on 21 September, International Day of Peace. The Hunter Interfaith Network usually marks both of those days – harmony and peace.

The key message for Harmony Day is that “Everyone belongs”, which reinforces the importance of inclusiveness, respect and a sense of belonging for all who live in this land regardless of cultural or linguistic background. Orange is the colour chosen to represent Harmony Week. Traditionally, orange signifies social communication and meaningful conversations. It also relates to the freedom of ideas and encouragement of mutual respect.

There are some fascinating statistics, taken from the 2016 census data about Australia’s diversity:

  • nearly half (49 per cent) of Australians were born overseas or have at least one parent who was
  • we identify with over 300 ancestries
  • since 1945, more than 7.5 million people have migrated to Australia
  • 85 per cent of Australians agree multiculturalism has been good for Australia
  • apart from English, the most common languages spoken in Australia are Mandarin, Arabic, Cantonese, Vietnamese, Italian, Greek, Tagalog/Filipino, Hindi, Spanish and Punjabi
  • more than 70 Indigenous languages are spoken in Australia.

On the Harmony Week website (www.harmony.gov.au) the following is written about our cultural diversity:

Australia is a vibrant and multicultural country — from the oldest continuous culture of our first Australians to the cultures of our newest arrivals from around the world.

Our cultural diversity is one of our greatest strengths and is at the heart of who we are. It makes Australia a great place to live.

An integrated multicultural Australia is an integral part of our national identity. All people who migrate to Australia bring with them some of their own cultural and religious traditions, as well as taking on many new traditions. Collectively, these traditions have enriched our nation.

While handing out the orange ribbons at the Cathedral, I could not help but notice the people of many nationalities who came through those doors. It was then great to gather with this ethnic diversity of people, young and old, male and female for a photo at the end of Mass. I sensed people were more pleased to be with each other in light of the events of Friday. I think we were counting our blessings of freedom, peace and common humanity, in this place we call home.

God created us to live in harmony and our first reading from the book of Genesis reminds us of God establishing a covenant with Abraham. When Jesus is transfigured, a new covenant was formed between God and God’s people. We are to live out that covenant each and every day, to love one another as God loves us.

This week the staff from the Curia will go out in groups to seven different locations as part of Bishop’s Staff Day. The three core elements of this day are Introduction, Information and Inspiration. In each of those locations we will look at the Catholic Church’s footprint within a parish setting, including the parish church, presbytery and office, school, CatholicCare, St Nicholas Early Education, Aged Care, Hospitals, etc. It is good for staff who work at the ‘centre’ to experience God’s mission lived out locally. Those at the ‘centre’ will be able to get a sense of the purpose of the work they do. I am mindful that we are out in the field on the Feast of St Joseph (19 March), and we will be remembering his yes to God’s invitation to be part of God’s divine revelation to humanity. I am also mindful of the many Sisters of St Joseph who have ministered with us and who continue to minister with us and to us. We have been blest to have such strong and dedicated female disciples of Jesus Christ in our midst. For many of us they have formed part of our ancestors in faith.

For those of you who are reading this on Tuesday, we are gathering on this night at our annual Sisters of Faith Dinner. Women from a variety of faith backgrounds come together for a meal and conversation. This is held in March to mark International Women’s Day as well as Harmony Day. I can’t help but think of the poignancy of this dinner in light of the recent events. It is always a happy occasion and this year Assistant Bishop Sonia Roulston, from the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle, will be speaking on Women of Faith in Leadership.

While I continue to be sad and grieving the events of the past few weeks, I stand proud as a Catholic woman of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle. I feel we are up the mountain with Jesus being transfigured and transformed. We are not giving up but are encountering the words and actions of St Patrick’s Breastplate. I am writing this message on Sunday night 17 March. And so I finish this message with these words of hope:

Christ be with me.
Christ within me,
Christ behind me,
Christ beside me,
Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ in quiet,
Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts
of all that love me,
Christ in mouth
Of friend and stranger.

I invite you to take time this week to greet and welcome a ‘stranger’ as this is our common home.

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Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

Teresa Brierley is the Vice Chancellor Pastoral Ministries of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.