Good Luck Athens!
01 August 2004
Sydney warmly recalls its turn as host four years ago. A party atmosphere enveloped the whole town at night. The Australian spirit of camaraderie and openness was at its best, a reference point we need to keep alive in our heads.’
By Jane Mills in Sydney
As the Olympic Games prepare to return to their home city of Athens, Sydney warmly recalls its turn as host four years ago. We remember the marvellous Ghanaian swimmer dubbed Eric the Eel, and the way the last of the marathon runners received as big a cheer as the first (possibly because their arrival signified the start of the closing ceremony!). One young Sydney-sider, Rob Thwaites, describes the Games as ‘one of the most memorable times’ in his life. ‘Visitors were welcomed by the residents with open arms, and strangers had time to stop and converse in the streets. A party atmosphere enveloped the whole town at night. The Australian spirit of camaraderie and openness was at its best, a reference point we need to keep alive in our heads.’
THE JEWISH JUDGE
In his recently published book, Tampering with Asylum, Father Frank Brennan, of the Jesuit Social Justice Centre in Sydney, recalls how he was inspired by the ‘resolute hope’ shown by detained asylum seekers. He regularly visited one group of Palestinians at Woomera, a now-defunct outback detention centre. ‘One of the Palestinians, Akram Ouda Mohammad Al Masri, decided to challenge the legality of his detention in the Federal Court,’ writes Father Brennan. ‘I felt obligated to inform the Palestinians that the judge was Jewish with a fine reputation for upholding human rights. Akram won his case and was released.’ When Brennan next returned to Woomera the three remaining Palestinians had decided that they would also like to take a case to court and asked him, ‘Do you think we could get the Jewish judge?’ Brennan comments, ‘In the middle of the Australian desert, some of the most complex conflicts seem resolvable.’
Though seemingly geographically remote from Middle Eastern upheavals, Arabic is Sydney’s second language and bridges of understanding need to be constantly built and walked across. Recently an initiative called Journey of Promise united 30 young Christians, Muslims and Jews who spent a week together in Sydney’s north visiting a variety of secular and religious places and talking with various faith leaders. Catholic Kelly Millward said, ‘Before the event... I knew Muslim women wore veils and Jews ate kosher food, but by the end I came to appreciate that, despite differences, we were all pretty much the same, struggling to apply our faiths in our own lives.’
OPEN MINDS-OPENDOORS-OPEN HEARTS
George Negus, a well-known Australian journalist, has just launched his book, The World from Islam. In it he writes of a mosque in Jumeira Beach, Dubai, which runs an ‘Open Doors, Open Minds’, project to bridge the gap between Islam and the non-Muslim world. This reminds me of Australia’s annual Open Homes, Open Hearts Day which encourages everyone to invite someone of a different culture into their home. Last June, Joyce Fraser of Marrickville, one of Sydney’s most multicultural suburbs, booked a community hall and brought together neighbours and local councillors to share a plate of food, a song or a dance from their culture. The walls throbbed with concentration as we attempted Greek and Israeli dancing, a Tonga haka and African singing! A wonderful way to break down barriers.
In Australia the debate has raged about the moral philosophy behind public education, with the Prime Minister calling it ‘values neutral’. The Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen disagrees, ‘“Values”... is a typical 20th century coinage intended to suggest that morals arise from within ourselves and are personal to us. We speak of “my values” or “our values”. But the language we once used was “virtues” and “standards”, which suggested that there were obligations coming from beyond ourselves.’
Sydney MP and Minister for Health in the Australian Parliament, Tony Abbott, spoke recently of the challenge of living a life of faith in politics. ‘It means giving others the benefit of the doubt; seeing the good in opponents; hiding one’s own light under a bushel; forgiving people not once but seven times 70; and being ambitious for the higher things rather than the higher office.’
A good note to end on from a city not known for its spiritual depth!