The increasing ethnic and cultural diversity of the Catholic population called for a rethinking of some key assumptions about the identity of the Catholic Church in Australia, Archbishop Philip Wilson has told a national conference on the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees.
Archbishop Wilson, President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, told more than 100 participants of the Sydney-based conference that the response of the Catholic Church in Australia to immigration could certainly be improved, and that often pragmatic considerations prevented people from opening their hearts fully to people from other cultures and backgrounds.
He proposed ways in which the Church could improve in its mission to ‘welcome the stranger’ and quoted from the document “Graced by Migration” which was written by members of the previous Migrant and Refugee conference.
Archbishop Wilson also encouraged the participants to think about the moral obligation of providing more than lip-service to migrant communities, and taking real steps toward reducing the fear-factor of migration by recognising the gifts brought to the Catholic Church by migration.
“Our pastoral response has to be affected by the reasons for the migrants’ arrivals in Australia,” he said. “Have they come because they have been driven out of their homeland with no prospect of returning, for example, or have they been the victims of extreme violence and hatred in their homelands before they came to Australia?”
Archbishop Wilson said the Church ought to avoid the pitfall of thinking only in terms of the risks inherent in either stressing unity or in over-emphasising diversity.
“There is a two-fold challenge for the Catholic Church in Australia: firstly, to look after the needs of the new arrivals”, he said. “The numerical consistency (of new arrivals), geographical dispersion and, most of all, their socio-cultural cohesion or lack of it will test the ingenuity of pastoral workers.
“Secondly, the increasing ethnic and cultural diversity of at least half of the Australian Catholic population calls for a re-thinking of the theoretical and practical assumptions about the identity of the Catholic Church that is in Australia,” he said.
The Archbishop acknowledged that within migrant Catholic communities, Bible and Tradition must make up their basic framework, but that the local Churches were free to maintain their “distinct subcultures” as long as they fitted in with the overall practice of the Catholic faith.
For a full text of Archbishop Wilson’s speech, follow this link http://www.catholic.org.au/index.php?option=com_docman&task=cat_view&gid=32&Itemid=185
Released by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference
October 27, 2009