One of the more enjoyable events that I have participated in over the past four years has been an annual Youth PoWR (Youth Parliament of World Religions) event that our Columban Centre for Christian Muslim Relations has cosponsored with Multicultural NSW and the Glenburnie Programme. On August 19, 2018 this year in Sydney I attended another wonderful celebration where about 200 young people of many different faiths from the Sydney area gathered at the SGI Centre (Soka Gakkai International which translates to “value creation society”) to discuss their hopes and dreams for a more harmonious Australian society. The theme that the young people on the 2018 Coordinating Committee chose this year was 'Harmony for Humanity, Unity in Diversity'. In past years I had been a mentor for the coordinating committee with my Columban colleague Fr Patrick McInerney who dreamed up this event. It was relaxing to sit back this year and be entertained.
I was especially moved when after the traditional Acknowledgment of Country we were entertained by three Aboriginal women from the Buuja Buuja Butterfly dance troupe. Their rhythmic movements accompanied by chant and music inspired in me a sense of the ancient heritage they were tapping into and sharing with us. It spoke to my soul. Dance captures something beyond words and other symbols. It would be great if we could feature more liturgical dance in our Christian services.
The other entertainment I was touched by was the Hebrew songs of Rev Joshua Weinberger who is the Cantor of the Great Synagogue in Sydney. The poignant tone of his repertoire of songs also touched a deep part of me even though I did not understand the language. A young Muslim woman also delivered a spoken word English poem, something which is very popular with city youth these days, and Buddhist and Baha’i performers performing their sutras were also well received.
The speeches were delivered by Christian, Sikh and Hindu speakers and were very inspiring. When young people challenge each other to move beyond words their enthusiasm can be catchy. Some used images such as a single note is just a single note but when combined with other notes we can achieve a harmony. Patrice Moriarty, the Catholic speaker, even had us creating a musical harmony! They all invited us to reach out to people of other faiths and to respect the environment.
Later in the programme we divided into many small groups and I was in a group of “elders” who shared about the importance of networks, of sharing positive good events, of encouragement for young people and how important it is to be involved in practical actions together. The Coordinating Committee had chosen ten issues of concern for the people to consider and the ones that were voted as most popular were concerned with Community Engagement and Interreligious Dialogue. This was not surprising considering the nature of the event. It was important that the participants were able to have a voice and a vote since it was a parliament. As I write this page in late August Parliament in Canberra is in disarray with another leadership spill and much shouting across the parliament floor. Hopefully some of these young people will be better leaders for us in the future.
One local NSW politician attended the event and it is a pity that some of the federal politicians who favour scoring political points by divisive and racist comments were not there to learn from the wisdom of the youth. The enthusiasm for what was voted on may wane as the days from the event increase but the vibrancy and positive exchanges of the experience will stay with many of the participants and hopefully many will follow through on their commitments.
There is a greater openness in many young people which can appear like they have a blended identity. Speaking from one’s own faith position is important but the Spirit blows where it wills and people of faith have much to share and learn from each other. Hopefully this Youth PoWR experience will help me take more risks in reaching out to people of other faiths.
Fr Brian Vale
Listen to From the Director - Acculturation
- Read more from The Far East, October 2018