The Italian connection
Bishop David Cremin (right), episcopal vicar for immigration in the Sydney archdiocese, at the Sydney launch with (from left) Fr Maurizio Pettenà, Capuchin Fr Romano Franchini, Scalabrinian Frs Victor Basso, Dominic Ceresoli and Fr Anthony Paganoni and Benedictine Fr Alberic Jacovone.
By Damir Govorcin
“Support for policies of multiculturalism and respect for cultural difference could risk becoming empty rhetoric unless accompanied by understanding and appreciation of the complexity involved in the mix of differences within our world,” says Fr Anthony Paganoni.
Fr Anthony, a Scalabrinian and episcopal vicar for migrants in the archdiocese of Perth, has written a book, Valiant Struggles and Benign Neglect: Italians, Church and Religious Societies in Diaspora. The Australian Experience from 1950 to 2000, which has been launched in both Melbourne and Sydney.
Marking the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the first Scalabrinian missionaries in Australia, the book analyses the dynamic relationship between Italian migrants, the Church and religious organisations in a variety of settings: in North and South America before World War I, in some northern European countries after World War II and particularly in Australia between 1950 and 2000.
“As a member of a missionary society, the Scalabrinians, a society which devotes its energies to the pastoral care of migrants, I have personally opted for concerning myself with people and with events as they happen and evolve, while at the same time investing time in study, reflection and publication,” said Fr Anthony.
“This mix of field work and reflective analysis had led me to believe over the course of time that unless diversity is given recognition and positive affirmation, it is destined to suffer a fate like that of sunken treasures at sea.
“However, in the case of forgotten human heritage, the stakes are much higher.
“If this heritage is condemned to oblivion, the loss will be irreparable and deeply damaging in human terms, not to mention in the loss of opportunities for enhancing the possibilities of world peace.”
At the book’s Melbourne launch, the Archbishop of Melbourne, Archbishop Denis Hart, said: “In an Australia which is challenged at the very basis of Christianity, the sense of the sacred, the continuity of faith, the involvement of the whole person in religion, which are proud and wonderful legacies which Italian Australians have brought here, may well be the factors which will save the Church from eclipse.
“Multiculturalism, whether demographic, political or ecclesiastical, seeks to establish a balance between the demands of overall group cohesion and intercultural diversity.
“Fr Tony’s thesis is that the Church has failed to give sufficient attention to the cultural diversity, to nourish it and to enable Australia to be enriched by it.”
He added: “It is my strong contention that we have not paid enough attention at parish level to the possibilities of enrichment which come from the communities that arrive in our midst.
“Too little attention has been given to that enrichment, particularly when migrant groups initially are few in number.
“My own practical experience with Italian migrants over the last 20 years would underline the link between Church, family, community and culture, which are a tremendous enrichment to a parish, which has not been readily accepted by people from other cultures.
“Perhaps only now, after the Italians have done the trailblazing, can we hope that other more recent arrivals will be met with greater sympathy.”