THE recently opened John Paul II Centre for Family and Life, set high on a hill in inner-city Brisbane, has been described as “a highly visible sign of life and hope” by Archbishop John Bathersby of Brisbane.
The archbishop made the comment in his homily at the November 22 launch and blessing of the centre which is co-located with the Queensland Bioethics Centre (QBC) next to St Finbarr’s Church in Waterworks Road.
The centre’s creation is also in a sense a radical act. It goes very much against the prevailing tide of modern times and forces which many believe are destroying much of traditional family life.
For this reason, centre director Ray Campbell said the work that the centre will carry out is “essential to a healthy society and a healthy Church”.
“Our society has a very high divorce rate which contributes to the increase in single parent families,” he said.
“As a Church we need to reach out to those who are in difficult situations.
“However, we also need to support what we believe to be the ideal.
“One of the roles of the centre for family and life is to promote the Christian vision of the family.
“It will also contribute to the development of policy on family and life issues within the Church and society.”
The John Paul II Centre had its genesis in a National Family Gathering conference in Sydney in 2004. Many people from Brisbane attended.
A working group was set up soon after which led to the establishment of the Family Evangelisation Taskforce.
Among recommendations from this group, and from the Queensland Bioethics Centre was that a family and life office be established.
With Archbishop Bathersby’s enthusiastic support, this office eventually became the John Paul II Centre for Family and Life.
Part of the JPII Centre’s role will be to serve parishes and deaneries, Mr Campbell said.
Among its roles will be to act as “a kind of information clearing house” to build up a “database” to help promote the Christian vision of family.
Centre development officer Gwen Winterscheidt has contacted various services and organizations supporting marriage and families, to prepare the database.
Assistance with the celebration of a Mass for World Marriage Day sponsored by voluntary groups such as Marriage Encounter is one of the centre’s current projects.
The Mass, being held on the second Sunday of February, 2008, will be celebrated at St Michael’s Church, Dorrington.
The staging of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference symposium “Walking in Love” will be another major centre event in 2008.
“The symposium will be looking at the issue of abortion from the woman’s perspective,” Mr Campbell said.
“Perhaps more importantly, the centre will then focus upon a follow up to ‘Walking in Love’ at the local level.”
The Queensland Bioethics Centre, now co-located with the JPII Centre, has been dealing with abortion and other related issues since its establishment by Archbishop Francis Rush in 1981.
At present the QBC is staffed by a director, a full-time secretary/librarian and one volunteer clerical staff.
It is open to all members of the community and is used by high school students, tertiary students, professionals doing research and the general public.
The centre prepares packages of material on particular issues suitable for use by students, teachers and members of the community.
Among its most valuable resources is a highly regarded library on bioethical issues.
Mr Campbell, director for the past seven years, said the QBC had given the Church in Queensland a voice in various public deliberations on matters of government policy in the area of health care.
“Directors have been a Catholic voice in such areas as reproductive technology, HIV/AIDS, research on human beings, ‘living wills’, cloning, and many other matters,” he said.
“It is a valuable ministry of the Church in itself, and serves other ministries, especially Catholic health care and education.”
In the beginning the centre was generously supported by the Mater Hospital, Brisbane, through the provision of rent-free premises and various infrastructure support.
Mr Campbell also paid tribute to the generosity of the Sisters of Mercy and the Mater Hospital.
“For 26 years they provided facilities close to the Mater Hospital for the first bioethics centre under the direction of Sr Regis Mary.”
Mr Campbell said the QBC had provided a significant voice in such matters as the euthanasia debate in Queensland.
“I also believe that we have made significant contributions to various guidelines produced by the National Health and Medical Research Council.”
He said many current trends in society had made the creation of the JPII Centre essential if respect for life and human dignity was to be preserved.
“One of the changes I have detected over the last 30 years in the area of bioethics is that some scientists have become much more aggressive in promoting their own particular view of the world,” he said.
“There was a time when you could rely upon scientists to at least give you the scientific facts even if you disagreed with their moral point of view. Now some of them will often resort to redefining language in order to hide reality.”
Mr Campbell said another unfortunate change had been the “loss of a sense of wonder at the gift of life”.
“Despite the catchcry of ‘autonomy for the individual’, there is actually less respect for the life of the individual today then there was when I started in this work 30 years ago,” he said.
Right now Mr Campbell and his team at the JPII Centre are hard at work, planning to play a part in turning the tide by supporting Christian families to live out their mission in today’s world.