From the Archbishop

Our multiculturalism a great witness to the world

TMAAustralia has much to offer the world as a model of how people of different ethnicities can live in peaceful co-existence, writes Archbishop Freier.

By Archbishop Philip Freier

July 5 2015Last month we commemorated the Bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo, a battle which in some ways marked the beginning of modern warfare. Military technology was developing rapidly in its capacity to produce enormous numbers of casualties especially when the methods of warfare emphasised massed armies facing each other in the field of battle. The passing of so much time should not blind us to the magnitude of suffering of such events; in the oft quoted words of the conquering general Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington himself, ‘My heart is broken by the terrible loss I have sustained in my old friends and companions and my poor soldiers. Believe me, nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won.’

Nearly 50,000 deaths from a short conflict over only a few days was a casualty rate that is almost impossible to imagine. The mourning of families deprived of their loved ones all over Europe must have been profound. Contrasted to the carnage of Waterloo the vision of God’s peace in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5: 1-12) is empowering as we seek a different way of living our human life.

Despite the distance that separates us in Australia from Waterloo both in time and across several continents our reflection on this event is worthwhile. The creation of the European Union has helped to preserve peace in Europe but the conflict between Ukraine and Russia is a cause for concern and we need to keep this situation in our prayers. When we look at the suffering in Eastern Ukraine we see only hard hearts and minds. Pray that they, and all involved in the conflict, will be opened to the divine call to peace.

Australia has much to offer the world as a model of how people of different ethnicities can live in peaceful co-existence. We enjoy a relative harmony of relationships across all former national identities. Just as former Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie described Australian churches as an ‘ecumenical laboratory’ because they had been established on an equal footing, so too Australia is a ‘multicultural laboratory’ because people of different cultures can feel they are equal and respected. Surely the Australian experience of transformed identities is a great witness to the world, particularly in places of conflict.

From my own ancestry, I know that my family left Prussia to come to Australia 50 years after Waterloo and 50 years before the First World War. In that period and across those generations identities and allegiances changed. Who we are as nationally or ethnically defined beings is malleable and should give us all pause for thought before we rush to polarised views.

It takes great heart and vision to prefer and work for peace over its opposite because we know at any testing time many will be stirred by nationalism and other human perceptions. The peacemaker will often be alone and a lonely voice. But indeed they, and we, are blessed when seeking the peace that God also seeks for the world. ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matt 5:9).

Just call to mind your knowledge of history; how numerous are the peacemakers you could name compared with the men and women of war?