Bendigo, the Challenge of Compassion

praiseThe Challenge of Compassion and the Global Age was the topic of guest speaker Prof. Des Cahill, Chair of Religions for Peace Australia, at the Bendigo Interfaith Council inaugual dinner on Friday, 18 March. The Dinner was organised as part of the Bendigo Festival of Cultures.

A leading professor of intercultural studies has praised the Bendigo Interfaith Council for taking a stand against racism and supporting the construction of a mosque in the city.

Desmond Cahill, professor of intercultural studies at Melbourne’s RMIT university, spoke at the inaugural Bendigo Interfaith Dinner on Friday night.

“I want to publicly congratulate all of you and your fellow citizens for the stand you have taken in supporting the building of the mosque, in resisting racism and bigotry (both of which lie deep in the Australian psyche) and in defending the principles of religious freedom and the separation of religion and state,” he said.

When it came to ways of tackling the issue of Islamaphobia in the community, Mr Cahill said, “the central point is that there are many different ways of being Australian … and always have been”.

Understanding the historical context of this pluralism was also important, he said.

“Islam was practised on Australian shores before Christianity by the Macassan fishermen who came annually across to Arnhem Land to fish for sea slugs as we know from the stories of the Aborigines and from the Macassan dialect and Arabic words in the local indigenous languages.”

The sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church and terrorism carried out by Muslims driven by political fundamentalism were examples of how “pathologies can infect large religious organisations”, Mr Cahill said.

But other representations of religion, including of Islam, were not always apparent in the media, he added.

“Two nights ago, for the first time ever, the Grand Mufti of Australia spoke at a function celebrating UN Interfaith Week and Harmony Week at Parliament House, Canberra. He spoke eloquently and poetically of Islam and Australia yet there has not been one single press report. This is very upsetting to the Islamic communities.”

A busy 2016 Festival of Cultures schedule concluded on the weekend with the “Celebrating Who We Are’ concert outside the Bendigo Town Hall on Saturday and events on Sunday including a European concert and a Shadow Puppets of Indonesia workshop.


Professor Desmond Cahill (front) with Interfaith Council members Judy Causon, Frank Marriott, Heri Febriyanto and Heather Mertens.


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