ROCHEDALE parish is working on the assumption that God’s love shouldn’t be hidden inside the church.
For the past few months, the parish has welcomed Muslims and Anglicans through their solid timber-and-brick church, following the footsteps of the great missionary St Francis Xavier.
The connection with the Muslim community grew out of one of the worst tragedies of 2019.
Following the devastating Easter bombings in Sri Lanka last year, when three churches were blown up, killing more than 250 people, the parish community found a card and flowers on its doorstep.
The thoughtful gesture came from Muslims at the Kuraby mosque, who were shocked by the cruel and deadly attacks on Sri Lankan Catholics.
Along with the card and flowers, the community attached a petition, signed by 301 worshippers, promising to pray for Christians impacted by the attacks.
“The Kuraby Muslim community sent many churches a card, showing their concern, showing their sympathy, and we were just one of the parishes, but we replied to them,” parish priest Fr Baiyi Gong said.
The reply came from Les Hauff, a Rochedale parishioner whose job is to connect with the different local faiths and denominations.
It’s part of an evangelisation project that was inspired by, surprisingly, the Mormon Church.
“About three years ago, we received an email from the Mormon Church, and a lady said she would like to come here and pay us a visit,” Fr Gong said.
“I thought that was a good idea – you can go out and talk to other religions, other churches, other Christian denominations.”
The Muslim and Catholic communities eventually met over a cuppa to talk about their faith experiences last July.
Rochedale parish has since invited the Anglican parish to its doors, and has plans to invite the Buddhist temple community and members of the Lutheran Church.
“We have a lot of jobs to do, right?” Fr Gong said.
But to a parish priest who in his former days in China was seeing 80 people enter the Church at Easter, connecting with non-Catholics is just the definition of evangelisation.
“When it comes to evangelisation, we should go out and talk to people who are not Catholic, or Christian, or who are atheists,” Fr Gong said.
“This is what the saints did, for example, St Francis Xavier, who went to Japan and China and even died in China, on a little island.
“I think in the past, our Church did more like this, but now it’s less and less.
“Now we just try to stay in the church, just to say Mass, and other sacraments for our parishioners, and try to organise activities for our parishioners, but we don’t go out a lot.”
That’s not to say Fr Gong isn’t looking after his community.
He’s the centre of another parish initiative, Pass the Pastor, which offers parishioners a chance to invite Fr Gong for a meal, a cup of coffee, or just a chat.
“So firstly I had this idea because I was new here, I didn’t know many people here,” Fr Gong said.
“I thought, wouldn’t it be good for us to have a deep chat, communicate with the people?”
Fr Gong has been invited to numerous family homes, and some of his visits have inspired parishioners to take up significant roles in the parish.
Some have offered a chance to relive his days in China, and most of them have requested a blessing or two.
He blesses houses, cats, dogs and even a pet turtle.
“Which means in our parish there are many holy cats, turtles and dogs,” Fr Gong said.
“Many years ago in China, a priest would do that, he would go inside and have a meal.
“When I was a kid, my parish priest always did that, he would just turn up.
“But you can’t do that in Australia, that’s why I invited them to invite me.”
Both the internal connections with his parishioners and the external connections with other faiths have brought a new lease on life in the parish.
“This is evangelisation,” Fr Gong said.