Muslims in Church

Last night I saw an article on the news about a far-right nationalist group, that links itself to One Nation Party leader Pauline Hanson, who stormed a church service on Sunday dressed in Muslim-style attire and chanting anti-Islamic slogans. I could well imagine that such a violation of the sacred space of a Church service would have left some members of church invasionthe congregation deeply traumatized.

The incident, on the NSW Central Coast, reflects the emboldened attitudes of anti-Islamic groups following the political resurgence of the One Nation party at the recent Federal elections. Like the Donald Trump phenomenon and the Brexit decision, it is clear that people are fearful of terrorism and this fear is pushing them to make more extreme right-wing choices, without truly thinking through the consequences.

The response of Australia’s peak Muslim body was to demand that Senator Hanson denounce the group’s actions. The incident has also triggered calls for the new Parliament to retain the full strength of discrimination laws amid a new push for the repeal of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which makes it illegal to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” a person, on the grounds that it limits free speech merely to prevent hurt feelings.

Why the 10 members of the Party for Freedom on Sunday disrupted the morning sermon Bad guysat the Gosford Anglican Church is because it is widely known for its embrace of multiculturalism, refugees and asylum-seekers. The church is nationally renowned for a sign at the front that often bears messages critical of Australia’s hardline border protection policies, such as “Hell exists, and it’s on Nauru“.

Father Rod Bower, the church’s pastor, said that members of the Party for Freedom burst into the church about 9.30 a.m., halfway through his sermon. “Using a loud speaker, starting to abuse me in particular for the work we do … they violated our sacred space,” Father Bower said. “It was typical rhetoric from the extreme right, vilifying Muslims and multiculturalism as a whole. “[They said] Muslims are taking over, they had some prayer mats and mock prayed; they had a recording of the Koran being sung.”

In video footage of the incident, the intruders can be heard speaking sarcastically of the “rich tapestry of Islam”, claiming, “the Western world is living in denial”.

As the group left the church a few minutes later, they warned the congregation: “Do not promote Islam.”

Some parishioners could be heard laughing afterwards, although Father Bower said some were left “deeply traumatized”, especially older people, parents of young children and parish priestasylum seekers. “People were confused and I had to reassure them,” Father Bower said.

Father Bower said the rise of the One Nation Leader, whose party has snared four Senate spots, was “symptomatic of a group of people feeling marginalized”.

What I find interesting, in contrast to this church visit by false Moslems was the church visit by real Moslems following the Killing of Fr. Jacques Hamel, an 84-year-old French priest, by two IS militants. The two attackers, who claimed they were from IS, slit Fr. Hamel’s throat during a morning Mass.

The following week, in a show of unity in the face of terror after this and other horrifying attacks carried out in the name of Islam, Muslims attended Mass in the church where Fr.

epa05449739 members of the congregation in Santa Maria Caravaggio church in Milan, Italy 31 July 2016 during a multi faith service organized by Italy's Islamic Religious Community (COREIS). The organisation called on Muslims to join Christians in condemnation of Islamist terrorism after extremists murdered a Catholic priest, Jacques Hamel, during Mass near Rouen in France 26 July 2016.  EPA/FLAVIO LO SCALZO

epa05449739 members of the congregation in Santa Maria Caravaggio church in Milan, Italy 31 July 2016 during a multi faith service organized by Italy’s Islamic Religious Community (COREIS). The organisation called on Muslims to join Christians in condemnation of Islamist terrorism after extremists murdered a Catholic priest, Jacques Hamel, during Mass near Rouen in France 26 July 2016. EPA/FLAVIO LO SCALZO

Hamel was killed, as well as is Santa Maria Trastevere church in Rome, Santa Maria Caravaggio church in Milan, and other Italian churches.

Outside the cathedral in Rouen, close to Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, where Fr. Jacques died, people applauded when a group of Muslims unfurled a banner reading: “Love for all. Hate for none.”

The remedy for the fear people are currently feeling in this time of uncertainty and terrorism is not to enter into the spiral of violence, generating more fear. The answer is love.

“In love there can be no fear, but fear is driven out by perfect love; because to fear is to expect punishment, and anyone who is afraid is still imperfect in love. We are to love, then, because He loved us first. Anyone who says, “I love God,’ and hates his brother, is a liar, since a man who does not love the brother that he can see cannot love God, whom he has never seen.” (1 Jn 4:18-20)

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About Passionist JPIC Australia

I am a priest with the Passionist Congregation and a part of our Australian Province which includes Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Vietnam. I have been ordained since December of 1992. I was born in the Philippines, though am from Spanish decent. I came to Australia in 1972 with my family when I was 11 years old, and we settled in Brisbane. That is where I did the rest of my growing up. On completing high school, I went to Queensland University where I studied for 4 years, completing a B.Sc. with a major in Microbiology. The following year I decided to enter into the Passionist Congregation to study for the priesthood. I trained for 9 years, and have been a priest for 25 years. In my time as a priest I have been Director of the Passionist Family Group Movement in Victoria, Tasmania and Queensland; conducted over 400 Parish Missions all around Australia and New Zealand, but particularly in Victoria and Western Australia; worked in adult faith education, Sacramental preparation for children and parents; Hospital chaplaincy; High school chaplaincy, in-services and retreats. In the year 200 I became engaged in developing young adult retreat teams and training them to carry on our high school retreat programs. I am also chair of our Province’s committee for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation (JPIC). I am also a member of ACRATH (Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans).
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