The world’s newest interfaith charter hopes to build bridges among the multicultural and multifaith communities of Sydney and beyond.
The Sydney Statement: Building Bridges Between Believers from Different Religions was officially launched by Youth PoWR (Parliament of the World’s Religions) at an event at the Sydney Town Hall on Thursday 11 March.
The Sydney Statement launch was organised as close as possible to 19 March to commemorate previous significant milestones for the Statement, as well as act as a parallel to the official opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which opened on that day in 1932.
In a similar ceremony to the bridge opening, members of the Youth PoWR Committee cut a blue ribbon to declare the official launch of the statement. Project Executive Officer, Fr Patrick McInerney, dressed as Francis de Groot, complete with cavalry sword, in accord with the spirit of The Sydney Statement, transformed the disruptive role that de Groot played on that historic occasion into one of contemporary cooperation and harmony.
Civil, religious and community leaders rubbed shoulders alongside young people and students in affirming the statement and its 21 commitments.
Attendees were welcomed to country by Theresa Ardler, as members from the Doonooch Dancers performed a welcome dance from their Indigenous nation in southern NSW.
“The Sydney Statement details how to engage in interfaith relations with others in daily life, in acting together for the common good, and sharing knowledge about each other’s religions, in exchanging spirituality and in promoting interreligious dialogue within one’s own community,” Ryan Epondulan, Project Youth Coordinator, The Sydney Statement, explained.
“Young adults from different religions came together to share their experiences, dreams and concrete actions to shape the city where people of all faiths would flourish together.
“We are passionately religious, and compassionately interreligious,” he said.
Fr McInerney explained that The Sydney Statement was not meant to just be a booklet on the shelf, or a poster on the wall, but to be truly lived out.
“The Sydney Statement is not a pacifier or a palliative. Its purpose is not to affirm the status quo, but to disrupt it. It is a call to action.
“It aims to push people out of their comfort zones, but not to push them so far that they resist. It aims to ruffle feathers, not to break wings.
“It is an invitation to reach out to the other and discover a brother and sister to love and support, with whom to cooperate in transforming our multicultural and multireligious society.
“We can and must to better to truly be a successful multicultural society, and The Sydney Statement charts the way forward.
“In the words of Pope Francis, ‘there is no alternative – we either build the future together or there will not be a future’,” Fr McInerney said.
In his keynote address, Alpha Cheng, son of NSW Police officer Curtis Cheng, who was shot dead in a terror attack in Parramatta in 2015, spoke about the power of diversity in unity, and his defiant stand against the hatred that emerged following the tragedy.
“It is frighteningly easy to descend into a spiral of toxic finger-pointing and blame. Fortunately, I chose not to take the easy way out,” Alpha said.
“My ultimate form of defiance against those who seek to tear us apart is to hold strong the values that keep us together – respect, compassion, kindness, solidarity and peace.
“I couldn’t stand idly by and let someone use my dad’s tragedy to scapegoat an entire group of people and whip up a sentiment of hate and exclusion. I used an opinion piece to say ‘if I for one can stand up and not blame an entire group of people then no one should feel they ought to’.
“We all must stand up for each other in the face of prejudice, discrimination and hate, and I call to also extend that beyond just religion, but for all those that may be oppressed and persecuted.
“The call to understand and learn from each other and a call to build the strongest bridge we can to weather the storms that seek to tear us apart.
“In a world filled with rising tensions, violence, hate, mistrust, discrimination and prejudice, if we all work on these commitments in The Sydney Statement, we commit ourselves against complacency.
“If we all work on these commitments, we all do our part in creating a stronger, safer, and more harmonious society – one we can truly call lucky,” he said.
In a video message, NSW Minister for Multiculturalism Geoff Lee, told the audience that The Sydney Statement is intended to foster religious harmony not just in Sydney, but across the state.
In her message of support, NSW Opposition Leader and Shadow Minister for Multiculturalism Jodi McKay said that it is important that the statement has been led by young people. “This is your future, you’re invested in what happens in this country, and it’s terrific that this is your statement for all of us to share.”
Representatives from various religions then gave their response to The Sydney Statement.
Joshua Moses, a Jewish member of the Youth PoWR Committee, concluded, “The Sydney Statement is more than just words on a page or a document to lay idle – it is a living and breathing contract that calls us all to action.
“The Statement exemplifies the future we hope to see our society become – one of acceptance, diversity, mutual understanding and the promotion of peace, justice and unity.”
The Sydney Statement is an initiative of the Columban Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations, in partnership with Western Sydney University, who provided research on existing interfaith statements. It was supported by the NSW Government with a COMPACT Grant through Multicultural NSW and underwritten by the St Columban’s Mission Society.
It was carried out by Youth PoWR, coordinated by the Youth PoWR Committee, and overseen by a Steering Committee of senior representatives from different religions.