Ballarat Interfaith Harmony Week celebrates trust and respect

St. Alipius Parish School grade two to six choir at the launch of the 2018 Interfaith Harmony Week on Sturt Street. Picture: Luka Kauzlaric

St. Alipius Parish School grade two to six choir at the launch of the 2018 Interfaith Harmony Week on Sturt Street. Picture: Luka Kauzlaric

Ballarat’s 2018 Interfaith Harmony Week has kicked off, with a diverse program of speakers discussing the importance of understanding.

Ballarat Interfaith Network’s event yesterday included an acknowledgement of country and didgeridoo performance from Peter Lovett, a welcoming address from deputy mayor Daniel Moloney and singing from St Alipius Primary School pupils under the direction of Adam Cameron. 

Ballarat Interfaith Network chair Margaret Lenan Ellis said the event highlighted the burgeoning respect between different faith groups and those with no faith.

“We need to keep our eyes and ears open for trying to build ongoing trust and respect,” she said. “So that whatever happens in the outside world, it doesn’t impact attitudes in our own community.”

“We have moved slowly, and our biggest step forward was probably connecting with the Islamic Society of Ballarat.

“When we got wind of the fact they were wanting to build a mosque, we connected with them and encouraged them to have interfaith events which invited the public and come and see what they were doing. 

“It was very exciting step forward.

“You can understand they were a little tentative about that, given the climate of anti-Islamic suspicion in people’s minds, but the Ballarat community has been wonderful.”

The keynote speaker was Kamelia Khosh, a member of the Bahá’í community. She said the week was a chance for reflection.

“It’s an opportunity for people to take the time to actually hear about and learn about different faiths,” Ms Khosh said. 

“That’s probably one of the biggest things that is standing in the way of creating unity; we don’t take the time actually look into other religions.

“One we truly, without prejudice or superstition, look into other religions then we’ll find the commonality between them.”

But a central part of the annual event – a flag raising ceremony for the city’s interfaith flag – did not occur due to Ballarat City Council not yet having determined its flag policy.

The council concluded it needed its own policy following a meeting in September, where it was voted to not fly the gay pride flag prior to the plebiscite vote on changing Australia’s marriage law.

It is believed the policy will be clarified in early this year. 

Ms Lenan Ellis said 2018’s celebrations were unusual without the flag raising. The network’s flag was created with artist Kat Pengelly. 

“It raised an issue of how important flags are and what they mean to different voices in the community,” she said. 

“It’s a shame we couldn’t fly the flag this year, but raised a point within the community that many different organisations in Ballarat community have a flag they feel passionate about and they feel passionate about what they stand for.”

Ms Khosh said she believed the only way to overcome prejudice was each person digging in and exploring different religions for themselves, not just appealing for tolerance.