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Ambassadors for Peace

Build on a Foundation of Dialogue

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In December 2005, tensions arose in the Cronulla suburb of Sydney between local Australian residents and young people of Middle Eastern background. There was a dispute about how women were dressed at the beach. Muslim youth started sending messages by phone to all Middle Eastern and Lebanese youth to invite them to get together on the beach and fight the Australians. There was violence between both sides for several days.

The five years Father Melhem Haikal had invested in interfaith dialogue among immigrant communities paid off when he was called to help defuse a potential riot in his adopted homeland of Australia.

“I am a Lebanese priest promoting peace with every person I meet,” says the Melkite Christian priest now living in Sydney.

“The Australian government has welcomed immigrants from around the world because it respects human rights,” he explained, “but clashes in traditions sometimes arise.”

“According to UPF, there is no difference between people,” Father Haikal explains. “Likewise, the mentality of the Australian government is to treat all people as one.” The government encourages interfaith dialogue between Muslims and Christians and supports interfaith groups with grants of funds.

“The government sent policemen to resolve the problems at the beach and called on everyone, especially us as leaders, asking us to help,” recalls Father Haikal. “We already had a good foundation of knowing each other and building friendships. We had a meeting with the Muslim leaders to invite them to call a halt to the young people’s plans, and they played a big role to stop all the things. They invited everyone at the mosque to stop such problems, appealing to the desire for security of everyone in the community. The religious leaders played a big role. They are a key to solving many problems.”

In the multi-cultural urban environment of Australia, Father Haikal tells people “We are all brothers and sisters under one God, who is God of love and the Father of every human being on earth.” His dark eyes sparkled as he spoke about his dream that all nations can get together and respect each other by focusing on values that are respected in every culture.

The Muslim-Christian Society in Sydney has been active in Sydney for more than five years. It started with five leaders, and now between 500 and 1,000 people attend meetings. There are monthly meetings and two or three big conferences every year. Both Muslims and Christians of Lebanese origin are part of this group. They assemble for social activities and welcome immigrants from different countries. Dialogue is an important part of the meetings, focusing on values and how to collaborate to plan events.

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