On Thursday 9 November, as part of an Australian visit commemorating 50 years of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the Commonwealth of Australia, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Holy See’s Secretary for Relations with States and International Organisations, visited Melbourne.

As part of his visit, he spent time at the office of Aboriginal Catholic Ministry Victoria, hearing about the important programs and works that celebrate the contribution of Aboriginal Catholics to the local church.

‘[Aboriginal people] have lived here for over 60,000 years in peace and harmony, and we had ceremony and ritual for every part of our lives,’ said Sherry Balcombe, the coordinator of ACMV, as she guided Archbishop Gallagher through the ACMV space.

Archbishop Gallagher shared how impressed he was by the ‘strongly Catholic context’ in which ACMV operates and expresses its faith, but also recognised the ‘very fresh and new way’ in which this is done, ‘which is very much a part of your culture’. He said this was one of the principles that the Church has been working with for many decades now, ‘and certainly in the pontificate of Pope Francis, [this] has become stronger because he is interested in the lives of indigenous people all round the world.’

During his one-day visit, Archbishop Gallagher also attended an afternoon function with local clergy and seminarians and celebrated a Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral on the occasion of the feast of St John Lateran, as well as speaking at a lunch hosted by Archbishop Peter A Comensoli at the St Andrews Hotel in Fitzroy.

Bringing together leaders and representatives from Catholic schools and higher education, health, aged-care and welfare organisations, social services, migrant communities, and ecclesial and mission communities, as well as from the political sphere, the lunch was an opportunity for the church in Melbourne to welcome Archbishop Gallagher and to hear his reflections on ‘the Church’s mission, our Christian identity and our commitment to witnessing to our faith in the face of the challenges that confront us’.

As a community of believers, Archbishop Gallagher said, ‘we are called to act as a collective force, guided by our shared belief in the central role of faith in our pursuit of the common good, with our service to humanity at its core’—a mission that ‘becomes increasingly vital in times marked by ongoing tragedies that profoundly affect humanity as a whole, particularly during periods of conflict and war.’

Even as innocent victims ‘bear the burden of others’ unwillingness to engage in dialogue and seek peaceful resolutions,’ he said, it is nevertheless ‘heartening to witness that the unifying power of faith and solidarity with those who suffer continues to resonate within the hearts and minds of many.’

Archbishop Gallagher pointed to the ‘pivotal role’ of faith-based organisations in ‘championing the inalienable dignity of every human being’ in a diverse and complex world. This ‘universal message’ of human dignity, he said, transcends ‘differences in belief, profession and personal history, uniting us in a shared purpose’.

The unique role of faith-based organisations

A distinctive and ‘invaluable characteristic’ of faith-based organisations, according to Archbishop Gallagher, is their ability to address the needs and priorities of the people they serve, especially those on the margins, helping to build a tolerant and inclusive society in which the dignity of every human person is honoured and protected.

Quoting Pope Francis’ first encyclical, Lumen fidei, he said that ‘faith, by revealing the love of God the Creator, enables us to respect nature all the more, and to discern in it a grammar written by the hand of God, and a dwelling place entrusted to our protection and care. Faith also helps us to devise models of development which are based not simply on utility and profit, but consider creation as a gift for which we all are indebted’ (LF, §55).

We are called to act as a collective force, guided by our shared belief in the central role of faith in our pursuit of the common good, with our service to humanity at its core.

According to Archbishop Gallagher, this faith shows us that ‘every individual, regardless of their background, status or circumstances, possesses inherent worth’. Against a background of growing secularisation, he said, faith-based organisations play ‘an essential role in spreading this truth about human dignity on a global scale’.

He warned against the corrosive influence of fundamentalism on the authentic life of communities, and against the ‘tendency to reduce our mission within Catholic institutions to mere services to be rendered’.

Archbishop Gallagher said he had made a similar point at a high-level meeting on universal health coverage at the United Nations on 21 September, where he argued that the role of faith-based institutions is not only to address the basic needs of individuals, but also to accompany them ‘on their journey towards personal fulfillment and the pursuit of happiness’.

‘Only by doing so,’ he said, ‘can each of us, each of our institutions, protect themselves from the danger of … a desensitised human conscience, a distancing from religious values and the prevailing individualism accompanied by materialistic philosophies that deify the human person and introduce worldly and material values in place of supreme and transcendent principles.’ Such desensitisation leads us to ‘disregard for the poor, the sick, the unborn, the disabled and the elderly, forgetting that human beings are inherently fragile, dependent and limited in their physical existence’.

Rather than ‘mere providers of services’, he said, faith-based organisations are called to be ‘beacons of hope, compassion, solidarity, … exemplifying the message that every person matters and should be at the centre of our concerns and efforts’.

A distinctive Catholic identity

In this mission, Archbishop Gallagher said, it is essential that Catholic organisations remain ‘firmly grounded in our distinctive Catholic identity’, a rich tradition that shapes our mission and is ‘deeply rooted in the belief that every individual, as a child of God, deserves respect, dignity and justice.’

Addressing an audience that reflected the breadth and diversity of Catholic organisations in Melbourne, he said, ‘Through the lens of faith, you recognise that behind every statistic lies a unique human story, a life of intrinsic value. It is this unwavering acknowledgement of the worth of every individual that empowers faith-based organisations to stand as a powerful force in ensuring that the human person remains the focal point of all our endeavours.

Faith-based organisations are called to be ‘beacons of hope, compassion, solidarity, … exemplifying the message that every person matters and should be at the centre of our concerns and efforts’.

A ’distinctive Catholic identity’ also provides many organisations with ‘a moral and ethical compass guiding their actions, grounded in the rich teachings and traditions of the Catholic faith’ and reminds them that ‘You are called to engage with those you serve on a deeper level, recognising in each one their inherent humanity, and providing not just necessary assistance, but also hope, while bearing witness to the Gospel.’

First and foremost, he said, faith-based organisations are called to bear witness to ‘the fullness of truth, the truth of God, humanity, nature and culture.’

It is a calling, he said, that ‘must be pursued courageously’, noting that challenges to ‘this noble vocation’ can come in the form of pressure to ‘conform to prevailing trends’ and what Pope Benedict XVI called ‘the dictatorship of relativism’.

Citing Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium, he pointed also to the need for a missionary discipleship—both in individual lives and within Church institutions—that ‘is committed to demonstrating the harmonious interplay of faith and reason and the relevance of the Christian message in fostering a fully authentic human life’.

‘Each one of us as a Christian is called to play an active role in shaping a better world and advancing the common good,’ he said. ‘If the message of the Gospel were to fade from our homes, public spaces, workplaces and political life, we would lose the guiding principles that challenge us to defend the dignity of every human being.’

A renewed commitment to faith and the Gospel

Picking up again on themes explored by Pope Francis in Evangelii gaudium, Archbishop Gallagher reflected on the importance of ‘renewing our faith and living the Gospel in the world’. Among the ‘challenges and temptations’ that might hinder this ‘apostolic work’, he said, was the tendency to become detached from ‘the central mission of evangelisation’, as well as ‘pervasive scepticism’, ‘erosion of Christian identity in the face of the media culture’ and a ‘practical relativism’ arising from ‘an undue focus on personal freedom’.

In responding to such challenges, he said, we should heed Pope Francis’ call for a ‘revitalised dedication to evangelisation … marked by authentic encounters and a deep sense of solidarity with others, through which it encourages us to break free from the seductive trappings of spiritual worldliness and the perils of division within Christian communities’.

If the message of the Gospel were to fade from our homes, public spaces, workplaces and political life, we would lose the guiding principles that challenge us to defend the dignity of every human being.

Archbishop Gallagher concluded by reiterating comments he made at World Youth Day in Lisbon earlier this year.

As the world grapples with ‘numerous difficulties and crises’, he said, it ‘desperately needs a message of hope for the future—that hope that is seen in our renewed commitment to our faith by living the Gospel and giving witness to the world. Our faith is not passive; it is a dynamic and transformative force that compels us to take action. It beckons us to be agents of change, working tirelessly to create a world where every human person is genuinely at the centre of all that we do …

‘Our faith in action becomes a testament to the transformative power of the Gospel as we endeavour to renew our faith and actively live it out in a world that hungers for hope, love and justice.’

Among the guests at the lunch were Archbishop Charles Balvo, Apostolic Nuncio to Australia; Mgr Thomas Jan Limchua of the Secretariat of State; Mgr Alfred D’Souza, First Secretary of the Nunciature; Fr Joe Caddy, Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Melbourne; Mgr Stuart Hall, Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral; Mgr Joselito Cerna Asis, Episcopal Vicar for Migrants and Refugees; Sr Veronica Hoey SGS, Vicar for Religious; the Hon Lizzie Blandthorn, Member for the Western Metropolitan Region, Deputy Leader of the Government in the Legislative Council and Minister for Children and for Disability; Ms Kathleen Matthews-Ward, Member for Broadmeadows; the Hon Jacinta Collins, Executive Director of the National Catholic Education Commission; and Prof Zlatko Skrbis, Vice Chancellor of the Australian Catholic University.