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Vol 39 No 3


Richard Lennan
STILL RELEVANT? Vatican II Forty Years On

Tony Paganoni CS
ETHNIC MINISTRY IN AUSTRALIA: History, Present Realities and Future Options

Frank Fletcher MSC
THE SPIRITUALITY OF THE HEART: The EJ Cuskelly Memorial Lecture 2005

Brian San

Rev Dr Lawrence Cross, Australian Catholic University

John Falzon
STATS AND STONES: Vinnies’ report from the trenches on the poverty wars

Danny Kinnane
MERTON: A Modern Perspective

Janiene Wilson
REVIEW: Jane Anderson, Priests in Love: Australian Catholic Clergy and Their Intimate Friendships

Kevin Mark


Ethnic ministry in Australia: History, Present Realities and Future Options


THIS ARTICLE focuses on some aspects of the history of ethnic ministries in Australia as these have developed over the past fifty years or so. In those fifty years the migration scene has changed markedly and all who have responsibility for care of migrants are challenged to take account of these changes. The article seeks to understand these realities and, on the basis of historical developments and present pastoral conditions, to articulate some options for the future.

The Unfolding History
A few years ago a Franciscan priest, in discussing long-term pastoral strategies for Italian migrants, stated in a decidedly prophetic tone:

I believe that the face of Catholicism in Australia will be different in the years to come. Many cultural aspects that now appear to be marginal may become part of mainstream Catholicism. The future is not ours to see… I believe that a more realistic query should be: 'Will the Catholicism of the future Australia be still western-bound (mainly Irish), or will it become part of the culture of Asia?1

Is it far-fetched to envisage that in the future some ethnic groups may not suffer the same marginality that has occurred in the past? As we shall see later, recent developments occurring within Catholic communities in Australia indicate that the immigrants' participation in Church activities is by no means negligible.

To understand this unforeseen development, it is important to keep our feet on the ground and revisit some of the lessons of history. There are basically two methodologies for analysing social phenomena: the quantitative approach and the qualitative approach. The latter one is more useful here. Historians are particularly interested in both primary and secondary sources, such as individual and group stories, written reports, letters, diaries, photos etc.

Some of the best-known Catholic historians, such as Edmund Campion, Paul Collins, Patrick O' Farrell, RC Thompson and Naomi Turner, have paid scant attention to the changing cultural landscape of Catholic communities in Australia. With the exception of Turner who devotes an entire chapter of her second volume to immigrant issues, the others are rather brief and perfunctory in discussing the heightened degree of diversification taking place within Catholic communities in Australia. In accounting for the winds of change that have swept across Catholic communities, they mention the dual factors of the remarkable innovations brought about by the Second Vatican Council and the arrival of many migrant groups. But whereas the Vatican Council produced an array of documents, commentaries and publications, the migrant communities, while forging a new life and future for themselves in Australia, have been less eager to document and share their own experience and stories.

Historians have to rely either on written documents of some sort or, if they have sufficient interest and ability to cross the threshold of language and culture, on recorded verbal and oral histories. In Australia and elsewhere, the non-English-speaking Catholic communities tend to fall back on their original language as a medium of communication. So it is hardly surprising that the bulk of internal information about the affairs and events of particular language communities are recorded in their own language for many years.2 There were, however, notable exceptions.3 The retention of the original language reflects the need for social cohesion, but it may also have the unwanted result of curtailing access to important information by the general community and by monolingual historians. Very precious information may remain elusive and out of reach. The danger is of creating a virtual terra incognita, an unexplored yet invaluable tract of human and religious experience which ought to be brought into the public domain.

The resulting imbalance between the size of information on the historical role played by the institutional Church on the one hand, and the hidden 'accumulated knowledge' on many Catholic migrant communities on the other is obvious, with one exception: the Jews in Australia4.

Tracing the actual steps that individual migrant families and representatives of the Church, both migrant chaplains and diocesan or religious priests, took in facilitating their resettlement and gradual adjustment to the fabric of the Catholic Church in Australia remains a daunting task. As there is a real risk in the general community of parroting terms such as 'inclusiveness', 'respect for differences' and the like without an awareness of the elusiveness of their meanings. Responsibility for this must be shared equally, but perhaps the dominant establishment, more articulate and equipped than either one or all of the ethnic communities put together, should be called upon to carefully investigate the accuracy of the most frequent assumptions underlying both policy and practice of appreciating diversity.

This task becomes imperative as observable trends seem to indicate that, on the level of their involvement with and support of their communities or their territorial parishes, Catholics from ethnic backgrounds are becoming more and more conspicuous and prominent. Gone and forgotten are the days when some ethnic groups, in particular the Italians, were known for their indifferent adherence to certain criteria for being Catholic. Expectations about participation at Sunday Mass in their local parish, regular contributions to the support of parish clergy and facilities, and the enrolment of their children at Catholic Schools were thought to be absent from their spiritual agenda. Along with other overseas-born Catholics they were thought to be undermining the established patterns of Catholic practice. It was clear that their ways of belonging did not match the feelings and expectations of most Church leaders in the 1950s and 1960s. I well remember an old Irish-born parish priest in Adelaide remarking that once he had been rather critical of his Italian-speaking parishioners. Now, he observes, the parish could not function properly without them!

On many scores past predictions have not been vindicated. Quite the contrary! Bob Dixon, the statistician and keen observer of Catholic realities in Australia, states:

This re-assessment of what it means to be Catholic is just one of many challenges facing the contemporary Catholic Community in Australia. There is, for example, the challenge of diversity, of sustaining an environment where a plurality of viewpoints and approaches can flourish without giving rise to division and polarization. The Church needs such diversity if it is to develop the creativity and flexibility required to interact with, learn from and contribute to an ever-changing world. There is the challenge of incorporating the richness of a multitude of Catholic traditions from around the world, especially given that about half of all Catholics are either first or second generation Australians, about one-third of Mass attenders were born overseas, as many as one in fifteen attend Mass in a language other than English each week, and growing numbers of priests are arriving from countries where the Catholic faith is lived quite differently from the way it has developed in Australia.5

In addition to similar remarks made in an earlier publication in 1996, Bob Dixon has now added statistical evidence about the relatively good attendance at Mass of overseas-born Catholics. Not all feet are turning away from Catholic churches!

Various surveys and reports commissioned by the Catholic Church and other Churches, indicate a decline (2% each year between 1996 and 2001) in Church attendance by the average Australian-born Catholic. There exists a definite link between lower levels of acceptance of Catholic beliefs and teachings and frequency of attendance at Mass.6

But there is always a bright spot in the darkest picture. In a thesis analyzing the nature and extent of belonging to the Australian Church by immigrants, Mary Noseda claims in her concluding remarks:

The major research finding is that immigrant Catholics 'belong more' and in different ways to the Church than their Australian-born counterparts, they are more frequent in their participation in devotional activities, they express greater satisfaction with their faith life and they have more orthodox beliefs than Australian-born Catholics.

An analysis of the response of the Church in the immediate post-war period suggested that it, like the National Government, was reluctant to make other than immediate short-term provisions, assuming that the migrant would assimilate to the Irish Catholic Church as they were expected to assimilate to the Anglo-Australian nation. Only in the last quarter of the twentieth century did the Church, like the nation, abandon this expectation and embrace multiculturalism that was evident in practice long before it became a policy, a practice developed and sustained by the efforts of migrants themselves.

This research has somewhat contradicted the picture that emerged from the historical analysis in that migrants are more Catholic than Australian-born Catholics and those immigrants who arrived first are the most Catholic of all.7

Mary Noseda goes on to state that 'explaining why this is the case is not easy'. Aside from the explanation that she offers (the Church seen by migrant women as a safe haven) we would like to add family and community ties within ethnic communities. But no matter how one looks at it, it is quite clear that the religious and cultural heritage fostered, lived and experienced elsewhere is proving to be an effective incentive in the retention of the faith and Church adherence. These histories of struggles and hard-earned feelings of belonging should form a great story for catechetical books in Catholic and State schools.

Over the last two decades migration flows to Australia have greatly diversified. Many Catholic migrants (for instance from Vietnam, the Ukraine, Lithuania, China, and some countries in the Middle East and the former Yugoslavia) came to Australia in order to escape religious persecution, while others (from Lebanon, Ruanda, Sudan etc.) were evading wars, genocide and ethnic cleansing. When everything else has been lost, people have come to appreciate their faith and church community as uniquely precious.

The embracing of diversity or of multiculturalism in the Catholic Church, as in any other Church, does not mean embracing a political option but simply a Gospel option embedded in the tradition of the Church for centuries. Long before the care of migrants and foreigners became part of the administrative and organizational structure of the universal Church(es), the hospitality offered to pilgrims and foreigners came to be regarded as a true sign of the disciples of Christ.

History however can be a dangerous and, even in the best of circumstances, a futile pursuit if it consists of a flight from the demands of the present.

Present Realities

If, in the case of ethnic communities, the view from the pews is less alarming than at first thought; if the level of participation, reflecting the mysterious feeling of belonging to God and to His Church, abides in many migrant communities in an unsuspected and generous way; if the decline has not impacted on migrant communities to the same extent as on locally-born Catholics (and that also includes the second and third generation descendants of migrants), and if in the words of Bob Dixon, a re-assessment is needed, how are the present realities going to be re-shaped or who are the best-suited players to cope with the new scenarios that have emerged?

The handling of diversity in the life of the Church is the responsibility of the whole Church. As for many other sectors in the life of the Church, the migration and/or immigration sectors have fallen under the responsibility of national as well as diocesan offices. In Australia, earlier remarks in this article about the positive contribution made by ethnic communities are not matched at diocesan levels by either priorities in pastoral planning or consequent budgetary allocations. This lack is in some ways supplemented by voluntary work which is going on at the grassroots level in communicating and/or sustaining the Gospel message within the Church's ethnic enclaves. Comparing resources allocated to the various fields of activity within the Church with the resources allocated to migrant ministry would, I believe, indicate an alarming gap.

The present map of the Australian Church agencies is characterized by a weak coordination between national and diocesan offices. Each diocesan office is left to fend for itself. It is unquestionable that the authority of a bishop in his diocese is supreme. As supreme is the good of all the faithful (salus animarum), which bishops, clergy, religious and lay people are called to foster.

Issues regarding the care of migrants cannot be addressed properly, if seen from a strictly diocesan perspective. They are rather national in dimension and scope. Is there any difference between the refugees from El Salvador living in Perth or Brisbane, or business migrants from Hong Kong living in Sydney or Adelaide?

Without counting several rites (some with their own bishops and priests, such as the Maronite, Melkite and Ukrainian, and some with their own priests, but without their own bishop and consequently accountable to the local bishop), there are about 150 migrant chaplains in Australia at the moment. These do not include the sizeable number of both religious and clerical members who devote their time freely and without official mandate and remuneration.

Possibly because they were established many years ago and reflected the efforts of larger and cohesive ethnic groups at the time, the 'European chaplaincies' are more solidly organized, as evidenced by their Mass- and socio-cultural centres with their chaplains mostly drawn from religious congregations. These guarantee a reasonable level of continuity. Some of these centres and chaplaincies (for example for the Lithuanian and Slovenian communities) with their ageing chaplains seem to be headed for extinction. The presence of religious priests and sisters (OFM, CS, SSpS, OFM Cap., FDCC, SChr., Omi, Cp, MSSP, SVD, SJ, SSC and the list is by no means complete) across the chaplaincy network appears to be substantial, in some dioceses the majority. Over the last five to ten years, several new chaplaincies have been set up mostly by the local Church but their number appear to be rather modest in light of the diversification taking place in Australia, particularly in the larger metropolitan centers.

Due to a continuing and worsening lack of ordained ministers, dioceses across Australia have embarked upon importing priests and religious from some of the migrant source countries. But these have been immediately snapped up to fill existing vacancies on the list of vacant parishes. The religious diversification of the Catholic population in Australia is hardly reflected in the allocation of human resources from overseas who, because of language and cultural affinity are admirably suited to undertake some form of ethnic ministry.

Notwithstanding written policies8, some dioceses have decided to actively recruit from the existing number of chaplains in their dioceses for parish duties. In a church sector such as migrant chaplaincies, clearly laboring under a much more severe shortage of personnel than the parish system, this desperate move betrays a lamentable lack of knowledge of basic Church law and practice about the care of migrants, while at the same time 'de-naturalising the peculiarity of the Migrant Chaplain and the gift that he is to the local Church' (M. Pettena', Coordinator of Multicultural Formation in the Archdiocese of Brisbane).

In his annual message for 2005, the Pope stressed the need for 'a pluralism that goes beyond mere tolerance and reaches sympathy'. Referring to the recent document Erga Migrantes Caritas Christi, the statement is made,

…integration is not an assimilation that leads migrants to suppress or to forget their own cultural identity. Rather, contact with others leads to discovering their 'secret', to being open to them in order to welcome their valid aspects and thus contribute to knowing each one better. This is a lengthy process that aims to shape societies and cultures, making them more and more a reflection of the multifaceted gifts of God to human beings (1).

In Australian Catholic circles we are very far from what the same document refers to as 'the occurrence of exasperated differentiation'. The danger rather lies in the homogenisation of God-given differences, resurrecting—if it has ever disappeared—a brand of quick and uncritical assimilation! The care of the stranger and of the foreigner has always been regarded as a yardstick of the solidity of one's own belonging to Christ and to His Church.

Future Options

As stated earlier in this article, history is unfolding in a way that could not possibly be foreseen a few decades ago. Future historical accounts will not be able to claim completeness or thoroughness without delving into the contribution made by Catholic migrants. We now attempt to delineate some future options, mostly relying on the experiences of other local churches.

At the moment, there are too many conflicting opinions on the whole subject of alternative pastoral models in the life of the Catholic Church in Australia. I will mention three of them:

1. There are those, a 'well-informed (?) minority' I would say, who believe that the Church in Australia has handled and still handles the influx of Catholic migrants in the best way it can. And even now, the modicum allocated in personnel and financial resources is the best the Church can do. Earlier on, migrant chaplains were given the task of caring for the spiritual needs of non-English-speaking migrants, in close collaboration with the parish clergy. Chaplains and chaplaincies came to be regarded as appendices to the parochial system—a position and a belief now partly resurrected in the recruitment of chaplains for parish duties or in the allocation of overseas trained priests exclusively to parish duties.

2. At the opposite end of the spectrum there are those, but they are not very many, the 'multiculturalists', who believe that in the life of the Church diversity matters, that the theology of the local church should constantly bear in mind its ever-changing demographic composition, and that the re-assessment needed implies a clear call to see diversity as a gift in both professional theology and pastoral practice.9

3. There are those, the majority, the 'pragmatists' who contend that the Catholic Church in Australia is facing serious and turbulent times. And the worse is yet to come! The disaffection of a large percentage of Catholics, intent on 'redefining what it means to be a Catholic, and defining it in their own terms, not by reference to official positions'10, the shortage of ordained ministers along with the depletion of religious houses are just some of the worrying features facing Church leaders in contemporary Australia. Until the present crisis abates, no effort should be spared to salvage some essential services. Will ethnic chaplaincies or their many equivalents11 be included in such a scenario?

I will now address some of the thinking behind the first and third positions. It is quite clear that these positions are not as clear-cut as they have been presented. However, as they appear to be stemming from practical judgments, I will remain on that level and cite the experience of two other local churches: Germany and Italy.


Social indicators support the view that the crisis of the Catholic Church in Germany is far more advanced that the 'turbulence' being experienced by Catholic communities in Australia. The General Assembly of the German Bishops published directives on the pastoral care of Catholics of other nationalities in March 200312. Relying on the experience accumulated over the last decades, the German Bishops hold that,

In our midst Christians of minority language and culture are not guests, but they belong in a constitutive manner to the Catholic Community on a par with those who belong to the majority culture within the Catholic Church.

The network of hundreds of ethnic missions for Italians, Croatians, Spanish, Portuguese etc… are seen to have played a very providential role in the settlement of migrant workers employed for the reconstruction of war-torn Germany. The same document acknowledges the changing demographic scenarios in human migration and the specific task which the various Catholic groupings exercise in the midst of the same local church.

In mapping out new strategies the German Bishops enunciate some theological principles. On a more practical side, after listing the various categories of migrants different by their language and nationality, their length of stay, their juridical status, their geographical concentration and their age brackets, the German Bishops, after lengthy consultations with immigrant communities formulate pastoral options and basic standards for all dioceses in Germany.

The concept of partnership is very much present: a Church which welcomes and cherishes alternative pastoral models and these, in their turn, respond in like manner.

In the past limitations have occurred on both sides of the equation: the local Church and the network of missio cum cura animarum. The document reaffirms the need for a lived and shared partnership and recognizes that such an undertaking needs time to grow and develop. Most of the proposals contained in a document issued by the German Bishops in 1986, Pastoral and juridical guidelines for the spiritual care of foreigners are reiterated with new ones added.

The new directives and guidelines for the pastoral care of migrants of other nationalities are to be applied with a good degree of flexibility and patience.

We ought to avoid solutions which would create the impressions that the adjustments are brought about by economic rationalism…The Catholic Church must shine more than ever as the community in which different peoples, languages and cultures are considered an enrichment. In this regard, the locally born population must be stimulated to heighten their awareness and conscience. And the ethnic communities which live in Germany ought to likewise regard their new country as the place where God has called them to forge a new communion as the people of God.

During the bilateral meeting of representatives of the Italian and German Churches13, it was revealed that the migrant population, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, in Germany represents 9% of the entire population of 81 million. Catholics born outside Germany number 2,400,000 and of these 600,000 are Italians. There are close to 500 ethnic community structures in the German Church at the moment. There are 80 missions for the Italian community, 65 of them manned by an Italian-speaking priest. The Church has now amplified its reach to more than 30 language communities.


The Italian Church, battling problems similar to those experienced by the Australian Church,14 is actively involved and successful in ensuring that all dioceses have a director to oversee and coordinate activities for the immigrant communities. It goes on to list the ethnic pastoral centres for Catholic immigrants originating from many countries in Africa, Asia, South and Central America and Eastern Europe.

At the beginning of 2000 these centres were 250. At the end of 2004 there were 650 of them. Of these only about 60 were canonically recognized (5 are personal parishes and all the others, either missio cum cura animarum or chaplaincies). All the others have sprung up through personal initiative and with the consent of the Migrantes Diocesan Director. Some pressure is exercised to gain an official recognition from the bishops of the diocese. There are close to 90 centres for the Ukrainians (one of their bishops comes to Rome very frequently on pastoral visitation), 60 for the Filipinos, 55 for the Albanians and more than a handful for Poles, Rumanians, Sri Lankans, Africans and Latin Americans15.

There are twelve national coordinators, sharing the same language and nationality of the largest immigrant communities.

The presence of foreign-born Catholics in either Germany or Italy is still very far from reaching the Australian levels of foreign-born Catholics.


This article contends that a Catholic ethos and practice finds fertile ground in an ethnic environment. These considerations do clearly imply that the time has come to adopt a more generous attitude when establishing priorities in the life of the Australian Church. It should certainly be mirrored in training institutions, such as Seminaries, Catholic Universities, Schools. However, this article did purposely avoid suggesting concrete programs and strategies.

The Church has to come to terms with human realities and ensure that its supra-national mission is understood by the world in which it lives. This is never an easy task.16 Otherwise the Church loses its raison d'être, becoming something entirely different from what Christ intended it to be.

The existence of alternative pastoral models, the existence of a Catholic Mosaic in Catholic communities throughout Australia call for a more sensitively tuned antenna than has so far been activated in Australia. The insightful comment of Jacques Maritain comes to mind: 'I am one of those persons who applies his ear to the earth surface to feel the growth of grass, of trees and of flowers'.

Tony Paganoni, Scalabrinian, is the Episcopal Vicar for Migrants in the Archdiocese of Perth. His latest publication is No Weary Feet. The History and Development of Mission Work among Italian Migrants in Australia (2005). Also by Fr Tony Paganoni: (2003) Valiant Struggles and Benign Neglect. Italians, Church and Religious Societies in Diaspora. The Australian Experience from 1950 to 2000, CMS, New York; cf. Tony Paganoni, 'The Italian Experience', Compass, 2003/3, pp. 24-28. Also by Fr Tony Paganoni: (2003) Valiant Struggles and Benign Neglect. Italians, Church and Religious Societies in Diaspora. The Australian Experience from 1950 to 2000, CMS, New York; cf. Tony Paganoni, ‘The Italian Experience’, Compass, 2003/3, pp. 24-28.

1 Anthony Paganoni, Valiant Struggles and Benign Neglect. Italians, Church and Religious Societies in Diaspora: The Australian Experience from 1950 to 2000. New York, Center for Migration Studies, 2003, p. 208.
2 See the interesting study by Anya Woods, Medium or Message? Language and Faith in Ethnic Churches, Sydney, Multilingual Matters, 2004. The study focuses on ethnic churches as linguistic workshops and it examines the ways in which language, culture and the Christian faith intersect in the specific situation of sixteen ethnic churches.
3 BA Santamaria, 'The Italian Problem in Australia', in The Australasian Catholic Record, XVI, 4, 201-305
4 SD Rutland, Edge of the Diaspora: Two centuries of Jewish Settlement in Australia, Rose Bay (NSW): Brandl and Schlesinger, 1997.
5 Robert E. Dixon, The Catholic Community in Australia, Adelaide, Openbook Publishers, 2005,p. 122.
6 Richard Rymarz, 'Lost Generation: The Cultures of Gen X Catholics', in The Australasian Catholic Record, 2004, 81, 2, pp.144-154; Robert Dixon, 'Acceptance of Key Catholic Beliefs and Moral Teachings by Generation X Mass attenders', in The Australasian Catholic Record, 2004, 81, 2, pp. 131-144.
7 Mary Noseda, Belonging: The Case of Immigrants and the Catholic Church, Melbourne, Australian Catholic University, Ph. D. Thesis, 2005, chapter 9. The thesis is in its final stage of revision.
8 In a recent statement, Multicultural Policy for the Church of the Archdiocese of Sydney, in the section 'what we believe', it is stated that 'it contributes to the success and nurturing of multiculturalism by:
• building community understanding of the values and contributions of all cultures, language and faith expressions;
• establishing parish policies and structures which support multiculturalism;
• ensuring the most important and urgent issues related to multiculturalism are taken into account at all levels of the school education system in the manner appropriate to each level; and
• promoting research studies and assessment of pastoral needs of all people on the move within the Archdiocese.
9 'Which theology of the Local Church?' in Anthony Paganoni, Valiant Struggles and Benign Neglect. Italians, Church and Religious Societies in Diaspora. The Australian Experience from 1950 to 2000, New York, CMS, pp. 338-340.
10 Robert E Dixon, The Catholic Community in Australia, Adelaide, OpenBook Publishers, 2005, p. 121.
11 See Erga Migrantes Caritas Christi or The Love of Christ towards Migrants, Strathfield (NSW), 2005, n. 93, 94 and 95.
12 I could not access the German edition of the document. I have relied on an Italian translation of One Church, Many Languages and Many People.
13 'Servizio Migranti', XV, Maggio-Giugno 2005, 3, p.207.
14 'Ricerca di fede in autonomia: ecco la religiosita' degli Italiani (Search for faith in autonomy: this is the religion of Italians)' in Jesus, XXVII, July 2005, 7, pp. 26-27.
15 'Servizio Migranti', XV, Maggio-Giungo 2005, 3, p.221.
16 Barry J W Jenkins, Churches responding to Multiculturalism: The Inter-Relationship of Selected Churches with their Associated Ethnic Congregations, Melbourne, Melbourne College of Divinity (M. Theol. thesis), 1993.