CATHOLICS, unlike the Amish, should not neglect culture because of their religion, Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge said at a chaplaincy-run conference last week.
The Archbishop made his comments as the keynote speaker for the second Spirit in the City Conference, an annual event held run by the Queensland University of Technology chaplaincy.
“Catholics are not Amish, we don’t turn our back on culture,” Archbishop Coleridge said.
“We are not a sect.
“We engage culture because we take the Incarnation seriously.
“We ask the question, ‘Where is God in this culture?’ Paganism is not all bad.”
He traced the etymological roots of the word “pagan” from the Latin paganus, a Roman army reference to a civilian, or a villager.
Christians used this term to denote those not of the milites Christi, the soldiers of Christ.
“God often appears in ways and places we don’t expect,” Archbishop Coleridge said.
“The challenge is to bring spirit and flesh together, the Spirit in the City. Without the Spirit, the city becomes hick country.
“We look to a future that is both Christian and pagan.”
More than 150 people of all ages, including non-Catholics, attended the conference, a marked increase from last year’s 60 attendees.
Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott was also invited to speak at the conference, and addressed challenges facing Australia, including the refugee crisis, the “abortion pandemic”, and redefinition of marriage.
Mr Abbott, a Catholic, made an appeal to the faithful, asking them to continue with a “can-do spirit” in fighting for their beliefs.
“I counsel you against despair; I counsel you against pessimism,” he said.
“We have to radiate a can-do spirit.
“To make a difference, be prepared to persevere, because nothing ever works out perfectly.
“Attitudinal change is more difficult than practical problems.
“Have a go.”
Young Australians of the Year and Orange Sky Laundry founders Nicholas Marchesi and Lucas Patchett demonstrated this can-do attitude, outlining their ingenious response to the suffering of the homeless by providing a free mobile laundry service.
Jessica Laidler and Anna Jimenez of the Catholic Mission Office presented on how they were inspired to engage in corporal works of mercy in Timor-Leste and the Philippines.
“For even as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without action is dead,” Ms Laidler said.
Other speakers included Fr James Grant, the founder of Chaplains Without Borders, which provides pastoral support for Melbourne’s Crown Casino employees, Dr Ryan Messmore, the founding executive director of the Millis Institute for liberal arts, and Mercy Sister Moira Debono, a theology lecturer at the University of Notre Dame Australia.
Fr Grant said it was important for Catholics to develop grassroots projects in their parishes “not just give to archdiocesan collections”.
“The Church has no skin in the game yet vigorously critiques others on social issues like climate change and the rights of refugees and the indigenous,” Fr Grant said.
“This loudly trumpets how disconnected it is from reality.”
Attendee Catherine Rosbrook, a 20-year-old ancient history student at the University of Queensland, found the conference an enriching experience.
“I found Spirit in the City to be intellectually stimulating,” she said.
“It was refreshingly engaging and provided a comprehensive insight on how I can most effectively live out my faith in our seemingly faith-less world.”
Caitlin Buckley, an accountant and QUT graduate, said she was already excited for the next conference, scheduled for next year.
“This year’s speakers were very stimulating and very smart in the way they broke down complex topics for everyone to understand,” Miss Buckley said.
“There was never a dull moment.”
QUT chaplain Fr Bavin Clarke said the conference inspired action among the attendees.
“One woman said she was going back to her parish to apply Fr Grant’s principles,” Fr Clarke said.
“People were responding to the depth of what was presented quite enthusiastically.”
Fr Clarke said the conference was “a pilot” for more long-term engagement within the university.
“Ultimately we want to engage with the university more broadly as we once did in multi-faith commencement ceremonies held in St Stephen’s Cathedral,” he said.
By Jean Seah