There is no alternative: we will either build the future together or there will not be a future. Religions, in particular, cannot renounce the urgent task of building bridges between peoples and cultures. (Pope Francis, Interreligious Meeting, Abu Dhabi, 4/2/19)
Columbans began the Columban Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations in Sydney in 1997. Our aim is to promote better relations between Christians and Muslims. This naturally led us to Jewish-Muslim relations, which expanded to relations with believers from all religions.
Inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue between Christians and Muslims cannot be reduced to an optional extra. It is, in fact, a vital necessity, on which in large measure our future depends. (Pope Benedict XVI, Meeting with Representatives of Some Muslim Communities, Cologne, 20/08/05)
In my early years in this interfaith work, I noticed that Catholic participants were mostly ‘white-haired’. I realised that if interfaith was to have a future, we needed to involve the next generation. We employed a young person and tasked her with reaching out to young people from different faiths.
The result was Youth PoWR (Parliament of the World’s Religions), a coalition of young adults from different religions. Over each of the past five years, a couple of hundred young people from different religions have come together once a year to meet, to listen, to get to know each other and to have a voice and a vote in shaping our multicultural, multi-religious society.
Let us dream, then, as a single human family, as fellow travellers sharing the same flesh, as children of the same earth which is our common home, each of us bringing the richness of his or her beliefs and convictions, each of us with his or her own voice, brothers and sisters all. (Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti, #8, 4/10/20)
In more recent years, I noticed that religious leaders in cities around the world had published interfaith statements e.g. The Athens Declaration 2015, The Beirut Declaration 2017, The Washington Declaration 2018. I thought, “Why not a Sydney Statement?”
In 2018, I proposed the idea to a Religious Communities Forum hosted by Multicultural NSW, where it met with a very positive response. In subsequent discussions, it was suggested that this would be an ideal project for Youth PoWR. We partnered with Western Sydney University to research the existing interfaith statements to provide a template. We applied for and received a COMPACT Grant from the NSW Government through Multicultural NSW. We invited representatives from different religions to form a Steering Committee to oversee the project. We were ready to start.
… we want to be a Church that serves, that leaves home and goes forth from its places of worship, goes forth from its sacristies, in order to accompany life, to sustain hope, to be the sign of unity… to build bridges, to break down walls, to sow seeds of reconciliation. (Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti, #276, 4/10/20)
In 2019, Youth PoWR conducted four consultations with young adults in the north, south, east and west of Sydney to generate content for The Sydney Statement. In 2020 the Executive, in consultation with the Youth PoWR Committee, the Steering Committee, the Youth PoWR network, and selected religious leaders and theologians, drafted the text. On 15 October, Youth PoWR launched the final text online, inviting young people to vote for it and authorise its publication. They now invite you to sign up to its values, principles and commitments on the dedicated website at www.thesydneystatement.org.au.
Why are Columbans involved in The Sydney Statement?
- Because it grows out of our history of involvement in interfaith relations
- Because it aligns with Catholic Church teaching on building bridges with believers from other religions, on breaking down walls of suspicion, fear and ignorance
- Because it aligns with Pope Francis’ dream of fostering a single human family where all are sisters and brothers to one another.
Why do Columbans encourage you to become involved in The Sydney Statement?
- Because reaching out to others is your baptismal call as missionary disciples
- Because Christ sends you to be witnesses of God’s love for all people and all creatures
- Because having been nourished at the table of the Eucharist, you go forth from your place of worship “to announce the Gospel of the Lord”
- Because Christ calls you to be neighbours to all others, especially the poor and the marginalised
- Because in Christ you are sisters and brothers to all others.
Together, then, let us “Build Bridges Between Believers from Different Religions”!
Rev Dr Patrick McInerney,
Director, Columban Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations.