The Columban Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations (CCCMR) was officially blessed by Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta, on February 28, 2018. The Centre is located in the Institute for Mission on the corner of Marion Street and Flushcombe Road, Blacktown, NSW.
The occasion was both ecumenical and interfaith, attended by Catholic representatives from diocesan agencies (education, youth, mission, parish and school), the Uniting Church, Coptic Orthodox, Muslims and a Jewish Rabbi.
Auntie Janice Brown gave the Acknowledgement of Country. Fr Patrick McInerney, Director, welcomed all the guests and gave a brief account of the Centre’s 20-year history and activities. Ryan Epondulan explained his role as Youth and Networking Coordinator in promoting interfaith relations among youth, including coordinating Youth PoWR (Parliament of the World’s Religions). Fr Patrick and Ryan then showcased the interfaith resources of the Centre and invited and offered collaboration with all present in promoting Christian-Muslim relations in Western Sydney into the future.
Assoc Professor Mehmet Ozalp, Director of the Centre for Islamic Studies and Civilisation, Charles Sturt University, a long-standing friend of the Centre, gave a response, stressing the need and importance of interreligious dialogue from a Muslim point of view. He shared how this calling to interfaith relations had changed and enriched his life.
In his address, Bishop Vincent affirmed that Christians and Muslims “stand united as citizens of Australia and as brothers and sisters of the human family.” Recalling his installation when he pledged to follow in the footsteps of his predecessors, particularly Bishop Kevin Manning, who built bridges between Christian and Muslim communities, Bishop Vincent stressed the importance of crossing over the religious divide and building an inclusive and harmonious society, adding:
I am so pleased that the Columban Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations is now located in the heart of our Diocese and the heart of Western Sydney. We are the epitome of multicultural, multi-faith and ethnically diverse Australia. The Centre will play a vital role in building bridges in our community, bridges of understanding, inclusion and solidarity instead of walls of prejudice, division and exclusion.
Bishop Vincent also highlighted the example of Jesus as the model of Christian mission:
Jesus constantly went beyond the borders of every kind and affirmed the humanity of all. In so doing, he invites us to step beyond our fears, our tribal confines and to expand the boundaries of our love. Our mission as Christians is to make peace, to nurture goodwill and to facilitate unity in the face of economic and social inequality, cultural polarisation and fragmentation. We can be the places that refuse to be tribal, that create spaces of welcome and encounter and address mutual suspicion.
In concluding, Bishop Vincent prayed a prayer of blessing which included the following invocation:
May this Centre be a place where truth is deepened, understanding is enriched, unity is strengthened and diversity is enhanced. But above all, may it be a place where Christians and Muslims join hands in friendship, mutual respect and love, so that they may build bridges of reconciliation, peace and harmony for the wider society.
Bishop Vincent then blessed the staff, offices and guests with holy water. After a vote of thanks, all the guests socialised and enjoyed light refreshments together, proof that the work of the Centre is already bearing fruit.
Columban Fr Patrick McInerney is the Director of the Columban Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations in Blacktown, NSW.
See Bishop Vincent Long’s address at the 3rd Annual Interfaith Peace Dinner at Parramatta Mission on December 2, 2017 at: https://goo.gl/SqWd57