Diversity does not mean division The 33rd National Assembly of Catholic Religious Australia – the peak body for more than 8000 religious women and men in Australia – has clearly shown that religious diversity does not need to divide. More than 100 leaders of religious congregations and institutions have returned home with the call to use their leadership positions to promote peace and harmony in relationships ringing not only in their ears, but also resounding in their hearts. “I heard regularly that diversity does not necessarily lead to division” CRA President, Sr Clare Condon SGS, said. “It can actually enhance unity if we engage in that diversity in a reflective manner.” Leaders from around Australia, with visitors from New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and the Pacific, heard theological and sociological input from leading academic practitioners of inter-faith dialogue in Australia, Fr Patrick McInerney SSC (Sydney) and Professor Emeritus Gary Bouma (Melbourne). Four young adult “children of Abraham” – Sadiq and Mahsheed Ansari, a brother and sister Muslim; Judith Levitan, an orthodox Jew and Chantelle Ogilvie, a Catholic – spoke honestly and passionately about their personal faith journeys and their involvement with inter-faith dialogue, in a commanding session facilitated by Sr Trish Madigan OP. Another influential session featured Parramatta’s Bishop Kevin Manning and Dr Vivienne Keeley CHF and Mrs Zuleyha Keskin, from Affinity Intercultural Foundation, sharing from the practical experience of many years of interfaith dialogue, prayer and joint action in the Parramatta region. Seven workshops took the interfaith understanding beyond the Abrahamic faiths on which the assembly was based and optional tours to the Gallipoli Mosque in Auburn, and the Jewish Museum, Darlinghurst, added to the richness of the interfaith learning. In her Presidential Address at the opening of the Assembly, Sr Clare said: For inter-religious dialogue to happen, self-awareness is fundamental – personal and individual awareness, but also ecclesial and communal self-identity. (more …) CRA Assembly: Diversity does not mean division … p. 2 During these days we are invited to touch into our deepest selves, our identity, to listen profoundly to the deepest selves of another and to understand the identity which is the other. These days will call forth from us an understanding which comes from the contemplative, rather than from a purely rational discursive, approach to issues and problems … Hopefully we will engage in the art of spiritual communication, where we can respectfully hold together the tensions, the questions, the hopes and the aspirations that our dialogue calls forth from us. Sr Clare said at the end of the assembly that she believed the leaders had had their understanding of interfaith dialogue stretched during the four days. “We have grown in our understanding of the place of dialogue in our relationships,” she said. “And while we may not all agree with the analysis that has been put before us, it has made us think and maybe we will do some analysis ourselves.” She said that relationship, friendship and service had been very evident throughout the Assembly as the leaders gained a much stronger and clearer picture of the reality of the lives of Jews and Muslims in today’s multi-cultural Australia. “My hope is that all religious, not just the leaders, will take up the call to be a source of peace and harmony in their relationships as we seek to move forward.” Sr Clare said she believed that the women and men who had attended the assembly had gone home changed. For herself, she now had a greater appreciation of the need for face-to-face human contact rather than simply categorising others of different faith.