YOUNG Sydneysiders from seven of the world’s major religions have published an unprecedented manifesto for intercultural harmony.
Taking as its logo the world-renowned Harbour Bridge, The Sydney Statement seeks to transcend theological and cultural differences and connect believers, whatever their faith, in a series of common values, principles and commitments.
The Statement, the fruit of three years’ work between the Columban Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations and grassroots religious and youth organisations from all around Sydney, was made possible by a COMPACT grant from Multicultural NSW.
The text was drafted by the members of Sydney Youth PoWR, a young people’s Parliament of World Religions, who benefitted from input from specialist theologians and researchers from Western Sydney University.
Dr Rachel Sharples is a researcher in the Challenging Racism project at WSU whose particular interest is the perspective of marginalised communities.
She looks into how migrants, refugees and asylum seekers fit into and enrich a multicultural and multi-faith Australia, and said what distinguishes The Sydney Statement is that it is a proactive document authored by young people.
“It was always intended to be a youth-driven statement rather than a top-down approach written by leaders in the various faiths,” Dr Sharples said.
“It is meant to be accessible and to provide real concrete action for change.”
Dr Sharples highlighted the inclusive nature of the text, which goes beyond theological debates.
It addresses such important secular issues as climate change, social justice and race and diversity.
“I think this aspect is really ground-breaking,” she said.
“This breadth and focus is not really reflected in other global [interfaith] statements and it’s an important pathway chosen by the Youth PoWR network.”
Dr Sharples pointed to WSU research on the need for interreligious dialogue which, up until now, has been the domain of hierarchical faith leaders.
Sixty-eight per cent of Youth PoWR participants feel interfaith dialogue in Sydney is very important and 73 per cent think youth engagement in the same is paramount.
However, only 37 per cent were very satisfied with the current opportunities for youth leadership in such activities.
Ryan Epondulan is one young person who is bringing a fresh perspective to the vexed problem of how people with different religious convictions can find common ground.
The Project Youth Coordinator for Youth PoWR said it is important young adults have a voice and a vote in shaping a truly multicultural and multi-religious society.
“The idea of consulting young adults from different religious traditions really stands out for me,” Mr Epondulan said.
“This is what makes The Sydney Statement unique: it is the only interfaith charter in the world made up of the ideas and perspectives of young adults.”
He said, in the context of the COVID lockdown in Sydney, it is more important than ever to build mutual respect, understanding and cooperation and pledged the ongoing involvement of Youth PoWR in that task.
The Sydney Statement is available in full on a dedicated website for people of all faiths or none to consult and sign.
Among the values the text promotes are those of hospitality, gratitude and care for the environment.
At the same time it pledges its support of principles such as secularity, the rule of law and the compatibility of science and religion.
Signatories to the Statement have also pledged to speak out against religious prejudice, violence and extremism.
Along with the young people who drafted it, the Statement has also been endorsed by leaders of the Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh communities.