Learning to live together

Newcastle’s university is a microcosm of the city’s broader cultural diversity and at its hub is the multifaith chaplaincy, which has a greater variety of backgrounds than any other campus in Australia.

Fifteen chaplains with an extraordinary breadth of experience cater to 13 faiths, ensuring practical assistance and spiritual guidance.

Catholic chaplain, Deacon Greg Kerr, was born in Australia, lived in Papua New Guinea and the US, and is married to an American. Assisting him is Nigerian-born Fr Camillus Nwahia, who originally came to the campus to study, and Mary-Anne DeLuca, Australian-born of Tongan and Italian descent and a pastoral ministries mission and outreach support officer.

The Anglican chaplain is Canon Andrew Eaton, an Australian who has lived in several African countries and is married to a Kenyan lady. The Baha’i representative is Shane Moghaddas, born in Persia and who has lived in India, and speaks four languages.

Baptists are served by Nic Cassar, Australian-born of Maltese descent, while Buddhists can turn to Gregg Heathcote, an Australian who studied in Japan to become a priest.

Serving the Muslim faith are Mohamed A. Hamed, who was born in Egypt, lived in England, Malaysia, Indonesia and Canada, and is an imam at the Mayfield mosque; and Farooq Rah, born in Kashmir and married to a Filipino.
Presbyterians can turn to Bev Paterson, Australian-born but who has lived in Papua New Guinea. The Seventh Day Adventist chaplains are Hana Nakagawa, who was born in Japan and studied in Sydney before coming to Newcastle; and Paul Roussos, a retired senior NSW Police officer and former Australian representative on the International Criminal Court.

Sikhs can seek solace with Amarjit Singh Chawla, who was born in India, lived in Africa, and speaks seven languages. He translates for the Department of Justice, and Hunter Health. England-born Graham Clark caters for followers of the Latter Day Saints, and he has extensive international business experience, notably in shipping.
Uniting Church Pastor Kim Langford was born in Australia and has completed counselling and spiritual support degrees.

The spiritual guidance on offer comes with a world of experience that helps with everything from loneliness to more practical matters. Nine of the 15 chaplains are justices of the peace.

International students seek help with paperwork, especially to extend or change visas. But often they come in for a chat. And chatting, along with food, promotes multiculturalism. As Imam Mohamed says, it’s better when we can come together over a coffee or a meal. “We establish friendships and learn about each other,” he says.
It’s why Harmony Day is such a big gig on campus, and important for the city as well. It’s a “town and gown” event that incorporates a lot of other distinct apparel. The expectation is that it will run this year.

Multiculturalism and the sharing of specific cultural days enriches the campus. The university has 120 student clubs, with many being different international groups. Harmony Day showcases their traditional food, dress, and dance.

“The chaplains are there, in our religious garb or wearing our chaplain shirts,” says Deacon Greg. “The Wollotuka dance team put on a traditional performance. It’s a very welcoming event.”

Deacon Greg says the sharing of culture is important for domestic students. He believes Australians need to be more accepting.

Imam Mohamed believes we are accepting.

“I was in the same area [chaplaincy] for many years in Canada, and at the second-biggest university in Malaysia, and it was not the case,” he says. “At Alberta University I did not find one activity like Harmony Day. Australia is a true multicultural and multireligious country.

“Events such as Harmony Day allow every culture to display themselves and encourage inclusivity. Orientation Week here focuses on welcoming other nationalities and cultures. It did not happen in Canada, or in Malaysia, a Muslim country that claims to be multicultural.”

Ms DeLuca believes getting beyond simple tolerance is important. “The move to harmony is good,” she says. “You don’t just want to be tolerated, you want to be known and to belong.”

Mrs Paterson says although the chaplains describe themselves as multifaith, they believe in their own religion, and agree to disagree over aspects of that. “It is dialogue with respect, but you do not have to compromise,” she says.

Ms DeLuca believes the respect among the chaplains filters out among the students.

The Mayfield mosque serves the biggest Muslim community in Newcastle – 1200 people from 23 backgrounds. Imam Mohamed says he feels something amazing about living in Newcastle.

“There is a new chaplain from the Jewish community, which means we have someone from all faiths,” he says. “My friends in Sydney tell me they can’t achieve this. It is amazing here. We are able to discuss everything.”

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