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Vol 40 No 2


John Rate MSC

Michael Fallon MSC

Martin Borg

Roy J O’Neill MSC
THE MINISTRY OF THE SKILLED STRANGER: Religion and Spirituality in Public Hospital Ministry

David Ranson
FROM FEAR TO LOVE: Building an Australian Culture of Hospitality

Kevin Mark



No foundations

IT IS NOT OFTEN that Australia comes to the attention of a pope—popes have to at tend to so many parts of the world. Hence we need to take special note of the address of Pope Benedict to Mrs Anne Maree Plunkett on the occasion of the presentation of her credentials as new Ambassador of Australia to the Holy See (18th May, 2006).

Pope Benedict told Mrs Plunkett that the diplomatic activity of the Holy See was all about peace-making, and he repeated the theme of his World Day of Peace message last January that peace must be built on truth. He commended Australia’s commitment at the international level to peace-keeping and aid projects which, he said, has won us the respect of the international community. But these efforts, he said, need to be matched at home in order to attain justice at the local level.

Concerning our nation’s reception of refugees and asylum seekers, he said:
I know that your Government has assiduously addressed concerns regarding the reception of refugees, in order to ensure that humanitarian considerations are incorporated within immigration detention policy and duly monitored.

I am not sure how to read that. Has the pope been poorly briefed? Or is it diplomat-speak that hides criticism under seeming praise, in such a way that the people addressed do not lose face? One thing is sure, the pope was speaking before the latest legislation (Migration Amendment (Designated Unauthorised Arrivals) Bill 2006) was proposed. If passed, this legislation will mean that all arrivals on

Australian soil who come without visas will be sent offshore, children included. They will be detained there for processing, far from mental health care and the supervision of the Commonwealth Immigration Ombudsman. This is hardly a humanitarian reception, with due monitoring.

Pope Benedict next turned his attention to the plight of the Aboriginal people, stating that there is still much to be achieved—‘Their social situation is cause for much pain’. He encouraged the Ambassador and her Government to ‘continue to address’ the deep underlying causes of their plight, saying:
Commitment to truth opens the way to lasting reconciliation through the healing process of asking for forgiveness and granting forgiveness—two indispensable elements for peace. In this way our memory is purified, our hearts are made serene, and our future is filled with a well-founded hope in the peace which springs from truth.

In a word, the Government needs to say ‘Sorry’! Then everyone will be able to move on in the process of healing and reconciliation. If the pope is more directive here, it is because hurt, healing and reconciliation are special areas of the Church’s ministry. On such realities we should be the experts, and we have a right to speak with authority.

The pope also spoke of World Youth Day and his scheduled visit for the occasion, especially of the impact the event can have on the young of a nation like Australia ‘where the process of secularisation is much advanced’. He spoke of marriage, of the way Australians have reacted against pseudo-forms of ‘marriage’, recognising the fundamental importance for society of marriage and stable domestic life, and he reviewed the efforts of the Catholic Church in Australia to support family life and the formation of the young.

There is a deeper theme in the pope’s reflections on World Youth Day, marriage and family life: his concern about our need to meet the challenge of relativism—philosophical, spiritual, ethical and moral relativism. Pope Benedict notes the failure of many of our contemporaries to recognise a transcendent order, so that for them nothing is ultimately true or false, right or wrong: all is relative. Unity, coherence and meaning are no more. All is fragmented, incoherent and ultimately without meaning or purpose.

This might sound like stuff for high-flyers of philosophy and art, but in fact—and this is the reason why we need to be concerned—these views on reality and life translate themselves into very recognisable dislocatedness at the level of everyday human living.

While there is a new openness to spirituality in some quarters, it is marked by a strong aversion from anything like Church, clarity about beliefs or forms of religious practice. Meditation, for instance, is respectable in our area of inner-city Sydney but the numbers of church-goers remains small despite quite energetic endeavours to attract people.

Traditionally Catholicism has insisted that there is an intellectual component in the act of faith, as well as a fiducial (trust) and an action-directed component: we believe what God reveals of himself and his plans for us, as well as trusting and obeying Him. With no belief in anything as reliable and true, people are left vulnerable in a crisis, if they are not already prone to self-destructive behaviour such as substance abuse.

In his address to Mrs Plunkett Pope Benedict referred to ‘moral relativism which, by recognising nothing as definitive, traps people with a futile and insatiable bid for novelty’. He sees this as a challenge for the Church and society in Australia as it is elsewhere in the First World.

The early articles in this issue of Compass examine at some length the culture of postmodernism and the challenge it presents to the Church in our mission of evangelisation. Moral relativism is a central feature of postmodernism. I am sure that what you read in these articles will make a lot of sense for you.

At times of crisis, as in illness or the loss of a loved one, every person does some soul-searching to re-discover what we ultimately rely upon, if we rely upon anyone or anything. It is appropriate that our reading on the postmodern challenge should be followed by articles concerning health care and hospital ministry. Our final article returns to the ever-burning question of our welcome of the stranger.

Thank you to all our contributors.

—Barry Brundell MSC, Editor