Faiths walk together to affirm common humanity
Interfaith walk ‘represents what’s best about our community’.
By Chris Shearer
November 6 2015
A rabbi, an imam and a priest walk into a synagogue. No, it’s not the start of a joke: it was all part of the Jewish Christian Muslim Association’s (JCMA) Friendship Walk, held on Sunday 11 October.
The event saw leaders and lay people from the three religions spend the afternoon walking from one house of faith to the next in order to learn a little more about each other’s beliefs.
The day began at St Peter’s Eastern Hill, followed by East Melbourne Synagogue and finally the Albanian Mosque in Carlton. At each stop the faith leaders gave a brief talk about their community and emphasised the relatedness of the three Abrahamic faiths.
The Honourable Robin Scott, Victorian Minister for Multicultural Affairs, was on hand to welcome participants and congratulate them on strengthening the ties that make community diversity so stable in Australia.
“This represents what’s best about our community. When there’s challenges, people coming together in goodwill, sharing peace, sharing understanding, sharing friendship, but sharing most of all our common humanity,” he said.
“We don’t tolerate diversity, we celebrate it.”
JCMA president Bishop Philip Huggins said the event highlighted the importance of interfaith networks.
“[It] points to the common ground, both out of common humanity but also out of common historical connection and common values of compassion and openness to the stranger, the common belief that we’re all made in the divine image… and the common yearning to serve God as best we can and love our neighbour as ourself,” he said.
Seyfi Seyit, Secretary of the Victorian Islamic Council, said the informal nature of the walk gave everyone the opportunity to learn and engage comfortably.
“The ultimate aim is to get here and learn about each other’s faiths, but it’s really just about building those friendships and trust that comes from inviting each other to each other’s homes,” he said. “When you open your doors to people there’s nothing to hide, so it’s about sharing insights of your faith with others.”
Around 150 people from across the three faiths took part in the event, more than organisers had expected.
JCMA Executive Officer Ginette Everest said recent events targeting faith communities had helped encourage the importance of the Friendship Walk. “There’s a lot of uneasiness and misunderstanding in the community so we just felt that actually going out in friendship was something we could do,” she said.
Only a day before the Friendship Walk protestors had gathered in Bendigo to oppose the construction of a new mosque. The Very Revd John Roundhill, Dean of Bendigo’s St Paul’s Cathedral, has been an advocate for interfaith cooperation in the wake of these anti-Islam protests.
“Clearly there are people who just do not want a mosque built in Bendigo and that’s it. But there are other people who have come to Bendigo and there are also people in Bendigo themselves whose agenda extends to well, well beyond that and is very straightforwardly anti-Muslim and as far as I can see it’s misogynistic and anti-Semitic,” he told TMA.
“And personally I’d say I don’t hold out much hope for moderate Christianity under that kind of regime either. So I think in that context we definitely need to strengthen the common bond that exists between all peoples of faith.”