Last night Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay took part in the Inaugural Faith NSW Dinner in Sydney, along with faith and civic leaders including the Premier of NSW the Hon Chris Minns, esteemed religious and civil leaders, ministers and members of parliament, and members of different faith communities.
The Faith NSW Dinner event marked the passing of the landmark legislation, to prohibit religious vilification, in NSW Parliament in August.
Below is an excerpt from the speech delivered by Bishop Tarabay.
The presence of the Maronite Catholic Church, a community that is than sixteen hundred years of history and tradition, and that has called New South Wales home since 1854, is a testament to the diversity of religious communities that exist in NSW, the state which holds the distinction of being the most religious state in the country.
Today we find ourselves at a critical juncture. The unity of people of faith transcends the boundaries that may divide us in belief for it is the essence of our shared humanity that binds us together. Our religious freedom is not just an abstract concept; it is the cornerstone of a democratic, diverse and pluralistic society, our religious freedom is fundamental to the principles of tolerance, diversity, and individual liberty, and it can only be viewed in this way.
It is important, first and foremost, to acknowledge that there is still much work to be done. In the coming weeks and months, our government’s commitment to the faith communities will be put to the test, as new laws are introduced that could impact our religious freedom.
Just over two weeks ago, the Maronite Eparchy celebrated the official blessing and opening of a new aged care home Our Lady of Mercy Place in Harris Park by its Patriarch, His Beatitude and Eminence Mar Bechara Boutros Cardinal Rai. The new home is located in the heart of the community there, adjacent to the Our Lady of Lebanon Co-Cathedral and precinct. Set to welcome its first residents in November this year, it is already part of a warm and caring multi-generational neighbourhood close to our schools, childcare and our Cathedral.
Sadly, and as the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act will come into effect next month, it will mandate that such facilities allow euthanasia and assisted suicide on-site. This is just one example of the challenges that will be faced by our faith-based institutions and calls for a careful balance between individual choices and religious convictions.
Friends, religious freedoms are sometimes framed as institutional rights against individual freedoms. However, this is a false contradiction. Our institutions are an extension of the religious freedoms of individuals in our communities. Instead, let us seek a balanced approach that respects both individual rights and the autonomy of religious institutions.
These freedoms grant individuals the right to practice their faith beliefs but also allow faith-based institutions to serve their communities and contribute positively to society. Safeguarding religious freedoms is not only a matter of human rights but also a safeguard for the diversity and vibrancy of our societies.
It is my prayer and my hope that we continue to work together, hand in hand, with our governments and communities, to ensure that faith beliefs are respected, our institutions preserved, and our individual and communities’ freedoms upheld. It is in this spirit of cooperation and mutual respect that we can truly celebrate a harmonious coexistence in this great state of New South Wales and indeed Australia.