On Saturday night, March 16, together with hundreds of people from across Newcastle, I gathered at the Newcastle Islamic Centre in Mayfield. I gathered there to stand in prayerful solidarity with the Islamic community in their grief and shock of what had happened the day before in Christchurch, New Zealand.
It was not the way I had envisioned marking the beginning of Harmony Week, yet it was the perfect example of why Harmony Week is something to be acknowledged in the civic life of Australia.
Gathered in the Islamic Centre and Mosque that rainy Saturday night was a perfect cross-section of Australian society. People from a wide range of cultural and religious backgrounds, people of all shapes and sizes, stood together in the face of violence and tragedy because they all shared something much more profound than whatever might mark them out as different.
From a Catholic perspective, we recognise that all human beings are created in the image and likeness of God, and that is something that is deserving of profound respect. We cannot truly be catholic unless we respect and embrace the very differences that create the rich tapestry that is Australian society.
Looking around the congregations in our churches on Sundays should reveal the truth of what we celebrate during Harmony Week. The cultural background of those who gather week by week is diverse, coming from countries such the Philippines, Italy, Chile, China, South Africa, Brazil, Argentina, Spain, the Netherlands, Germany, India, Sri Lanka, Korea, Egypt and Mauritius to name but a few. And while our origins might be rich and diverse, what we have in common is much more significant.
Together we share a faith in God that unites us beyond anything that divides us, a common faith and belief that transcends whatever differences human beings might notice. As Christians, we see beyond the superficial to the deeper reality of what unites us. And that was why I stood in the Mayfield Mosque on a rainy Saturday night. I may not share the religious belief of those with whom I gathered, but I shared something more profound with everyone who was in the building that night. There, together with other Novocastrians, I acknowledged our shared humanity, and our shared pain and grief, that overcomes any differences that others might wish to highlight.
And that is what we should acknowledge during Harmony Week.