Tony Paganoni CS, Valiant Struggles and Benign Neglect: Italians, Church and Religious Societies in Diaspora, the Australian Experience from 1950 to 2000. The Center for Migration Studies, Staten Island, New York. [HB 1-57703-030-3; PBK 1-57703-031-1]. Distributor: Fr Adrian Pittarello, St Brigid’s Presbytery, 378 Nicholson St., North Fitzroy 3068.
This book is wonderfully timed, appearing as it does in advance of this year’s Social Justice Statement from the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, which will address the themes of multiculturalism and racism in Australia. The author is Episcopal vicar for migrants in the Archdiocese of Perth. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1965 as a Scalabrinian Missionary and has worked in the USA, England, the Philippines, and Australia. Fr. Paganoni has published widely, mainly on various aspects of international migration.
It is a major study—the author calls it ‘an exploratory study—of our track record in the Australian Catholic church in pastoral care of Italian migrants in the past half-century. Documentation is often difficult to find. The archives of religious congregations yield good material that has been digested by select members of each congregation and we are treated to a stimulating collection of considered opinions and much wisdom. The pastoral activities among Italian migrants of diocesan clergy is mostly undocumented—the documentation just does not exist—and that is a pity, since we need more examples of good practice to lighten the picture of neglect, and worse, that has been very much the rule.
The Italians came to our shores in big numbers when the Catholic church throughout the world was still in a period of great rigidity that dated back to the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century. In Australia there was only one way of being Catholic, that was the Irish-Australian way. Catholic identity was confused with sameness, as was Australian identity also, for this was a time when the goal of assimilation ruled policies affecting migrants. In the local churches there was little or no consideration given to the minority religious cultures of the immigrants, to the great impoverishment of the receiving churches as well as the religious deprivation of the migrants themselves. It is a story of suppression of difference, and of unchallenged dominance of cultural bias and prejudice.
The church in Australia is now striving to be truly multicultural, which means inclusive of differences. The story we read in this book, and the commentary of the author and the many people he has been able to quote at length, show how much work we have to do in the Australian church, at the national and the local level, to come to respect the cultic rights of minority groups and allow differences and diversity to not just be tolerated, but to flourish ‘under the same Catholic roof’. Failure to do so results in impoverishment of the whole community. Acceptance of newcomers, accepting diversity as a gift, allowing bearers of different religious cultures to be fully active participants in the life and mission of the church community to which they belong, is a challenge that is mostly still ahead of us in Australia even after all these years.
In Gaudium et Spes, the document of the Second Vatican Council on the Church in the Modern World, we read:
The Church has been sent to all ages and nations and, therefore, it is not tied exclusively and indissolubly to any race or nation, to any one particular way of life, or to any customary practices, ancient or modern. (Par. 58.)
We are struggling as a nation and as church in Australia with how to acknowledge the otherness of the other. This book is highly recommended as a well-researched and reliable guide to the pitfalls that we must begin to avoid in the future and to the goals that we should be striving for.