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Speech

Australasian Network of Pastoral Planners

Issue date: 
Wednesday, 18 February 2009
Speaker: 
Rt Hon Sir Anand Satyanand, GNZM, QSO

May I begin by greeting everyone in the languages of the realm of New Zealand, in English, Māori, Cook Island Māori, Niuean, Tokelauan and New Zealand Sign Language. Greetings, Kia Ora, Kia Orana, Fakalofa Lahi Atu, Taloha Ni and as it is the morning (Sign)

May I specifically greet you: Your Grace, Most Rev John Dew, Archbishop of Wellington; Your Eminence, Cardinal Tom Williams, Archbishop Emeritus of Wellington; Rt Rev Denis Browne, Bishop of Hamilton; Rt Rev Peter Cullinane, Bishop of Palmerston North; Rt Rev Eugene Hurley, Bishop of Darwin; Justin Barwick, Chairman, Network Pastoral Planners and Director of Business Services for the Diocese of Broken Bay Sydney; Lorraine McArthur, Director, Pastoral Services, Archdiocese of Wellington; Mark Richards, Coordinator, Pastoral Services, Diocese of Palmerston North; Distinguished Guests otherwise; Ladies and Gentlemen.

Thank you for inviting me to address this breakfast gathering for the conference of Australasian Network of Pastoral Planners. On a visit such as this, my wife, Susan, would ordinarily be with me, but she is currently in London with our daughter Tara, who gave birth to our first grandson, Joshua, in mid-January. As you can imagine, we both feel very blessed by this happy occasion.

I would like to take an opportunity to speak briefly about my journey as a Christian and Catholic and the role that I see for faith communities, and the Catholic Church in particular, in New Zealand's future.

I was born in Auckland and grew up in a Catholic household. My parents were born in Fiji and had migrated to New Zealand. I attended a state primary school, the Richmond Rd Primary School in Ponsonby and I was later schooled by the Marist Brothers at Sacred Heart College in Glen Innes. I have maintained an association with Sacred Heart in subsequent years.

In looking at religion, some people compartmentalise it as if it was a discrete segment of their lives. I have not ever seen my religion in that way but instead as a part of the tapestry of my life, interweaved with all its many other threads and hues.

Yes, I am a Christian and yes, I am a Catholic, but I am also a New Zealander of Pacific and Asian linkages. Likewise, I am also a lawyer, a former judge and ombudsman. And further, I am also a husband, a father and, as I have just mentioned, a grandfather as well. None of these parts, of who and what I am, are separate from each other but instead form part of the person who stands before you.

As some here know, when in Wellington and before the closure of Government House Wellington for its conservation project last October, I often attended Mass at St Joseph's Church in Mt Victoria. If I am in Auckland, I often go to Mass at either St Michael's in Remuera or St Benedict's and sometimes St Patrick's Cathedral in the central city.

Due to the commitments that come with being Governor-General, I am not always able to attend Mass every Sunday but I don't think I could be described as a "Christmas Catholic" either! I favour those places where the laity asserts itself and hence I feel at home particularly at "St Joes' or St Ben's"

Likewise in my family and home, while I am a Catholic, in our household, not everyone shares my faith. Our household, and indeed that of my parents, who were both Catholics, has always welcomed people from many different religious backgrounds and faith communities. I believe I am fortunate to maintain, as does my wife, Susan, connections and friendships with people of many faiths. In that, we are similar to many other contemporary New Zealanders.

My Catholicism and religious belief provide me with a compass that has helped guide me in my life and work. But it is not the sole guide. I can see merit in and have taken heed of teachings from other Christian and non-Christian faiths and indeed from philosophers and thinkers who profess no faith at all.

There was a time when comments such as these by a Catholic would have been described as heretical. His Holiness Pope Pius XI, in his 1928 encyclical on religious unity, Mortalium Animus, deemed it unlawful for Catholics to be involved in assemblies with non-Catholic Christians who were not committed to the primacy of the Holy See.

More recently, His Holiness Pope John Paul II, in his 1995 encyclical on ecumenism, Ut unum sint, took a different view, emphasising the importance of ecumenical dialogue between different Christian faiths.

Likewise, both Pope John Paul II and His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, have committed themselves to the principles outlined by His Holiness Pope Paul VI, in Nostra Aetate, his 1965 Declaration on the relation of the Church with non-Christian religions. As Pope Paul so eloquently said:

"The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men."

Those words provide a suitable point at which to examine New Zealanders and their approach to religion and the challenges of religion in today's world. I suspect that New Zealanders' traditional sense of religion can be seen in the reaction to my appointment. Much was made of the fact that I was New Zealand's first Governor-General of Asian descent. But there was almost no comment at all on my being New Zealand's first Governor-General who was also a Catholic. Likewise, I recall that when Rt Hon Jim Bolger became New Zealand's first Catholic Prime Minister, there was only passing comment on that fact as well.

Rather than seeing religion and religious affiliation as irrelevant, I think this speaks more of New Zealanders traditional tolerant attitude to those who are different from themselves.

And it is something that was established as New Zealand was founded as a modern nation. The point was well made in the Preamble to the Statement on Religious Diversity prepared under the auspices of the National Interfaith Forum and the Human Rights Commission. It says, and I quote: "At the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, Governor Hobson affirmed, in response to a question from Catholic Bishop Pompallier, [that] "the several faiths of England, of the Wesleyans, of Rome, and also Maori custom shall alike be protected"."

That my predecessor Governor William Hobson referred specifically to the followers "of Rome", only 11 years after Catholic emancipation in Britain, was highly significant. Likewise, his reference to those of "Maori custom," a non-Christian belief system, was equally significant.

The opportunities and challenges posed by religion remain the same today as they have been in the past. History shows that religions can not only be instruments of peace, healing and love that can inspire creative works of beauty, but they can also inspire violence and discrimination. Religious beliefs can not only bring enemies and strangers together, but they can also pull families and countries asunder.

During the Cold War, when the world was divided between capitalist and communist ideologies, it was often said that religion was no longer a significant divisor. But with the fall of the Iron Curtain, it quickly became apparent that conflicts along religious lines had not gone away-they had simply been suppressed.

Nor has New Zealand been immune from these conflicts. Issues to which New Zealanders relate such as the Virgin in a Condom, the wearing of burqa in court, the desecration of Jewish headstones and the publication of the Mohammed cartoons show the challenges inherent in New Zealand's increasing ethnic, cultural and religious diversity.

The 2006 Census showed that about 55 percent of New Zealanders said they were Christians, a small drop on five years earlier. Of those who said they were Christians, there were considerable changes. While the four major groupings remained dominant, there were moderate drops in those saying they were Anglican or Presbyterian and modest increases among those calling themselves Catholics or Methodists.

But there were, however, larger increases in those affiliated to other Christian denominations. The number of people affiliating with Orthodox Christian religions increased by more than a third, while those affiliated with Evangelical religions increased by more than a quarter, and those linked to Pentecostal religions increased by more than 17 percent.

Against these changes, and reflecting immigration from Asia, there were also major increases in those holding non-Christian religions. While starting from much smaller bases, the numbers of Sikhs, Hindus or Muslims all increased by more than 50 percent.

And finally, and equally important, about 34 percent said they professed no faith at all-a figure up from 30 percent five years earlier.

So what does this mean for the Catholic Church, and particular for a senior gathering of pastoral planners such this?

First, I believe that in keeping with the tenets of Nostra Aetate that the Church has a key role to play in promoting understanding between people from different faith communities and also with those who share no faith at all.

Promoting understanding is a higher calling than simply promoting tolerance. By its nature, tolerance is inherently passive. Because there is no active engagement or communication, the opportunity for real understanding never occurs and preconceptions and stereotypes can often go unchallenged.

When times are relatively peaceful-and thankfully New Zealand has been spared the bitter divisions that continue to afflict many other nations-this has not been a great issue.

But I have noticed that when contentious issues related to religious or cultural custom have been aired in the New Zealand media, the less than informed comment aired on talkback radio, blogs and in letters-to-the-editor has indicated a deeper underlying lack of understanding. And with the uncertain economic times ahead, the dangers inherent in tolerance will almost certainly be laid bare.

Real understanding requires interaction-to meet, to talk and to socialise with others who are different from us. It also means getting to know people as individuals on their own terms, and not as automatons whose behaviour is dictated by religious imperatives.

Understanding does not mean that one has to surrender one's religion but it does mean recognising that other faiths have inherent value. I wonder, for example, how many Christians realise that the Prophet Mohammed says in the Koran: "Surely those who believe, and those who are Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabians, whoever believes in Allah and the Last day and does good, they shall have their reward from their Lord, and there is no fear for them, nor shall they grieve."

Understanding between Catholics and Presbyterians, between Anglicans and Penetcostals and between Christians and non-Christians, is about more than just attending Interfaith meetings and signing on to high level statements such as that on religious diversity. From a pastoral planning perspective, it might involve promoting social gatherings, attending the services of other faith communities and working together on projects to assist those in need.

Referring to "those in need" brings me to my second and related point. New Zealand, and indeed the world, is entering difficult economic times that, if the views of most economists are to be believed, will be the worst since the Great Depression. Behind the failures of businesses and the loss of jobs and increasing unemployment, will be thousands of people and families and communities in distress.

The Catholic Church, and indeed all churches and faith communities, will need to dig deep to not only support their own, but also to open their arms to all that need help. The imperatives of Christian charity demand nothing less.

In my New Year message at the beginning of this year, I called on all New Zealanders to offer voluntary service to the community. I offered the view that the spirit of volunteerism is the glue that holds our society and economy together and that our health, education and social service sectors would grind to a halt without the countless hours of voluntary work many people provide.

I suspect the next few years will test that "glue" in a way that few will previously recall. There is a cliché that says in difficult times, people should work "smarter, not harder." Well, I suspect, the Church will not get off so lightly. You'll probably not only have to work smarter, but also harder.

Working smarter, will mean looking beyond the Church's own resources to the community as a whole. To use a phrase from management, the "operating environment" the Church works in has become increasingly pluralistic. Initiatives to assist those in need will be magnified and all the more stronger and resilient, if they are done collaboratively with other organisations, regardless of whether they are Christian or not and whether they religious or not. That New Zealand's and Australia's pastoral planners have decided to hold this, their first joint conference, is an example of that in practice.

Such a collaborative spirit, and its ability to deliver more than the sum of individual parts, is well described in the apposite Māori proverb: Ko koe ki tēnā, ko ahau ki tēnei kīwai o te kete, which translates as "You at that handle and I at this handle of the basket."

The days ahead will challenge the Church as they will challenge us all. Given those challenges, I cannot think of a more appropriate comment with which to conclude than one from Abraham Lincoln who, at the height of the American Civil War, spoke to Congress in the following words:

"The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves."

And on that challenging note, I will close in New Zealand's first language Māori, by offering everyone greetings and wishing you all good health and fortitude in your endeavours and your conference. No reira, tena koutou, tena koutou, kia ora, kia kaha, tena koutou katoa.

 

Last updated: 
Friday, 20 February 2009

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