The Holy See
back up

 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move - N° 93,  December 2003, pp. 169-172

Multicultural Pastoral Care


Director of the Centre for Multicultural Pastoral Care

Archdiocese of Brisbane


Dear Members of the Fifth World Congress,


First of all, I would like to introduce the Organisation that I represent, within the context of the Archdiocese of Brisbane, in the State of Queensland, Australia. The Centre for Multicultural Pastoral Care is the Catholic Church Agency which is responsible for assisting in the coordination of pastoral care for migrants, refugees and Ethnic Communities throughout the Archdiocese.

Let me share with you our historical perspective.

In 1949, Catholic Immigration was established at the request of the Vatican authorities to assist with the Pastoral Care Ministry to migrants and refugees (the displaced people at that time) and to meet the needs of the post-war movement of people.

In 1994, the Archdiocese separated the Catholic Immigration Office (which was part of the Pontifical Mission Societies) from the Catholic Mission Office and assumed full financial responsibility for the new Centre for Multicultural Pastoral Care (known as CMPC). The objectives of the new Centre were to widen the scope of the activities previously undertaken, to be more inclusive of migrants and refugees in the Archdiocese and to ensure their full participation in the life of the Local Church.

A significant development in recent times has been the preparation and implementation of "We are one body", a document which provides Multicultural Pastoral Care Guidelines for the Archdiocese. Our role, therefore, is evolving from the provision of direct service delivery to focusing on promoting the implementation of the Multicultural Pastoral Care Guidelines, building networks, providing coordination and leadership, providing support to Ethnic Communities and Chaplains and participating in archdiocesan projects.

The "how" and "who does what" in our Archdiocese is described in our policy document. Some copies are available in English if anyone of you is interested.

Within the Archdiocese, under the Archbishop, at the present time we have thirteen Chaplains who celebrate Masses each week in their own language. They are called Migrant Chaplains and have equal status to Parish Priests. Whereas geographically they move around the archdiocese, they do have a base from where they minister to their Catholic Ethnic Communities and, as well, simultaneously in every parish in our archdiocese in one form or another. One of the Migrant Chaplains, Fr Albert Chan, Chaplain to the Catholic Chinese Community said: "Thanks to CMPC's role over the last ten years there has been an increased acknowledgment of the key role of the Migrant Chaplain." He said "We are not poaching people out of parishes but are exercising a bridging role in multicultural pastoral care. Also there are an increasing number of people becoming Catholics because the language, culture and customs are better understood by those of us who are in special ministry."  

There are a few small emerging Catholic Ethnic Communities who do not have priests from their own culture and who are ministered to by a number of diocesan priests. These Communities are cared for and supported pastorally through CMPC.

Most of the parishes within the Archdiocese are culturally diverse and there are many groups and individuals who assist in different ways the migrants and refugees in their local areas. The same happens within the Catholic Education system which has a multilcultural policy in place which translates into being as practical as possible in assisting migrants and refugees and ensuring that they are part of the Catholic Community.

Parishes raise funds for the sponsorship of refugees as well as to assist in their settlement locally. Through our Catholic School system scholarships are offered and other financial contributions are made to assist the most vulnerable migrant and refugee children with their schooling. The contribution made by Catholic Education in our Archdiocese amounts to millions rather than thousands of dollars. The Religious Congregations, through resources and personnel, contribute financially to assist migrants and refugees in areas such as employment, health, accommodation and pastoral care. 

We work in partnership with a number of organisations. An example of this is our close partnership with the Society of St Vincent de Paul working with them in both an advisory and culturally appropriate educational capacity. CMPC, having recently moved out of direct service delivery more into a leadership and directive role, has encouraged and supported the Society to become more involved in service delivery.

In 2000 CMPC opened the Romero Community Centre with the intention of providing a drop in centre and quiet space of spirituality. However, with the arrival in Brisbane, during the next two years, of over 1,500 Temporary Protection Visa (TPV) Holders released from the Detention Centres, the Romero Centre became the place where CMPC, one of the only organisations not government funded, assisted these arrivals (mostly Muslims from Afghanistan, Iraqi and Iran) offering friendship, guidance, support, clothing, accommodation, English language Classes and, in some cases, assisting in finding employment. In the two years we were directly involved in this area we worked both ecumenically and across all Faiths confident in our Catholic Faith and challenged by the Faith of these vulnerable people.

I would like to move on now to share with you some of the contributions that our Archdiocese is providing to our wider society in Australia. The universality of the Catholic Church is translated into the representation and composition of Australia which is one of the most multicultural Countries on earth and which has managed this diversity well.

The most important element for which the Church may take credit is that there is little social conflict. We enjoy and live in harmony within the Australian society despite it's origins being embedded in racism and the overriding of the indigenous populations.

Our Archdiocese, through our Centre, contributes with advice and consultation on policies. Therefore, all States and Federally in Australia there are policies in relation to respecting and accepting cultural diversity within their institutions.

Our Archdiocese is a strong advocate for ensuring that there is implementation of practices within our legislation prohibiting racism and vilification on the grounds of race, ethnicity, religion and culture both in our own State and nationally. I can proudly say that our Archbishop, Most Rev John Bathersby and his two Auxiliary Bishops, Bishop Brian Finnigan and Bishop Joseph Oudeman and other key Archdiocesan Leaders wholly fund CMPC to support Multicultural Pastoral Care and to promote diversity in an inclusive way. This gives us, as Church, autonomy and independence when it comes to defending the rights of migrants and refugees. There are other institutions within society (Government Departments and funded Community Agencies) which also support and promote diversity in our society.

One of our roles at CMPC, as a Pastoral Care Ministry, is to maintain constructive criticism of the gaps in assisting migrants and refugees and to encourage our Local Church to respond to the challenges we face in improving the well being of our society.

Some examples:

           The policies while established, often do not have sufficient resources or impact. They            are not based in legislation or in the Constitution.

           Monocultural frameworks still dominate in society and English is the official language.

           There are major cuts to the programs for community languages to be taught in schools            and languages are the key to culture.

           Ethnic affairs are not seen as the core of business and in some cases are added on and            in others not.

           Issues of racism and discrimination greatly prevail. There are insufficient resources to            support people who suffer racism.  

           Racism affects the life chances and opportunities in employment, education, housing,            practices of Faith etc and minorities (the most visible, recently arrived refugees) are            still vulnerable.

Immigration issues are still used as political tools with Politicians using immigration as a platform for their election - often racist and anti-immigrant stands.

The issue of Asylum Seekers (persons referred to by the Commonwealth as queue jumpers, illegals and Boat People) has done much damage to the progress of multiculturalism. The war in Iraq, the September 11 and Bali bombings have done much damage to inter-Faith relations and the dominance of views within the community that Muslims are terrorists. The media has also had a very negative role to play. The curtailment of rights for certain groups of immigrants such as older migrants and Temporary Protection Visa Holders has led to double standards in terms of citizenship rights in Australian society and has set us back more than 50 years.

These are some of the challenges we, as Church, face in our own Archdiocese. We have the full pro-active engagement of our Archbishop and his two Auxiliary Bishops in the promotion of respect, the treatment with dignity of the human persons and the acceptance of cultural diversity as an integral part of the Life and Mission of our Local Church in order to transform the world in which we live. And through our practise of the Faith and our attitudes of welcoming the stranger we offer the presence of Jesus Christ to the world.

Having said all this we need to ensure that the Church of Brisbane continues to be a guiding force in this most important ministry of pastoral care to all people on the move.

In regard to my own introduction, I am a Salvadorean by birth who arrived in Australia as a refugee in 1984. I have worked since the late sixties with the Church in Pastoral Care, Human Rights, Peace, Mission and Spirituality in the cross-cultural context in several regions and continents. Since 1987 I have worked in the Archdiocese of Brisbane in areas of mission and the pastoral care of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. Therefore, I have found myself in a position of sacredness which provides me with opportunities and challenges to reach out of my Faith practices to those who are often on the margin of society or who are completely invisible to the point that they are non-human persons to others. Because of the time limit, I invite you to collect a copy of my personal sharing of "Faith Journey" later.

The importance of this week's gathering is for us to unite our wisdom, experiences and skills. To unite these, not as social resources only, but instead to collect the treasure of universality to encourage our Local Churches to engage increasingly in providing welcoming, hospitality, respect, acceptance, friendship and trust to those human persons who, before their arrival in the receiving country, regardless of race, political affiliation, religion, language or status, were persons with a history, talents, skills, families, relatives and Faith. These cannot be ignored. It is imperative then, out of our discipleship, to ensure their gifts and talents are assets for their new countries in order that they find a new home.