A QUEST for human unity is one of the lofty goals that will guide a new Church council aimed at bridging relations with groups from other faiths and beliefs.
Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge has appointed an eight-member Council for Ecumenism and Inter-religious Relations to build respect and co-operation across communities in south-east Queensland.
“We carry an overwhelming message of hope,” chairman Chris Ehler said after the council’s first meeting last week.
It comes just days after Pope Francis visited a refugee detention centre on the Greek island of Lesbos, and took 12 Muslim refugees from Syria, including six children, with him back to Rome for resettlement.
“We have come to call the attention of the world to this grave humanitarian crisis and to plead for its resolution,” Pope Francis said during his camp visit, where leaders of Eastern Orthodox Christian churches joined him.
Mr Ehler said the Pope’s gesture underlines the scope to co-operate and act to build faith relations.
“This was an example of going out of his way to show greater compassion, not only in our faith but across traditions,” he said.
The new council will promote relations and dialogue between the Catholic Church and other Christian churches and between the Church and other religious traditions to advance understanding and respect.
The council replaces a commission for ecumenism that has been dissolved, although some of the commission members will sit on the new council.
“There is tremendous scope to sit down, listen to leaders from other religions and beliefs, and find the unity and commonalities between us,” Mr Ehler said.
He pointed to some existing programs that successfully bridged gaps including religious education in state schools.
He said the new council would look for opportunities to co-operate with other churches in ecumenical prayer.
“Part of our work will also be to respect our differences,” he said.
Mr Ehler said Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the family “The Joy of Love” offered direction for the work of his new council.
“The Pope recognised the messiness of life, the complexity we find ourselves, in the modern world,” he said.
“We do not expect people to fit in to the one mould.
“Think of the way our Church has welcomed others – whether through inter-faith marriages, or examples of co-operation and dialogue.
“This has happened within one generation.”
After accepting an invitation to chair the new council, Mr Ehler said he was inspired by attending a World Religion Day celebration hosted by the Baha’i community.
“During this gathering on the theme, ‘Overcoming Prejudice – Walking Together’, there were representatives from each of the religions: Christian, Muslim, Baha’i, Sikh, Jewish, Zoroastrian, Buddhist, Hindu and Pagan,” Mr Ehler said.
“The overwhelming message of hope for me during this celebration was the singular belief that every person across all of these religions desires a life where there is no prejudice and people are free to live in harmony with each other and with all of creation.
“I was struck by the huge common concerns and visions of life.”
By Mark Bowling