Australian Catholic University announced the official opening of its Asia-Pacific Centre for Inter-religious Dialogue on Thursday, 31 August 2006. The Centre was co-opened by Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, Archbishop of Westminster, and His Eminence Mehmet Ali Sengul, personal representative of His Excellency Fethullah Gülen.
The Asia-Pacific Centre for Inter-Religious Dialogue, launched in Melbourne, is ‘a timely and hopeful initiative ─ indeed a sacred trust’.
These were the words of Cormac Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, the Archbishop of Westminster and a leading Catholic voice in establishing dialogue as a secure basis for peace. The Cardinal, who also visited Brisbane and Sydney, has specialised in Catholic-Muslim relations, and has continuously stressed the vital principle of ‘sacred hospitality’. The late Dr Zaki Badawi famously appealed to him for help in drawing on the Catholic experience in assisting Muslims to become comfortable British citizens.
A packed gathering at ACU’s St Patrick’s Campus in Fitzroy saw the unveiling of a plaque by both Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor and His Eminence Mehmet Ali Sengul, who represented the world-renowned Turkish Muslim scholar His Excellency M. Fethullah Gülen. The latter had suggested to Pope John Paul II in 1998 that they found a joint university in Urfa, Turkey. Instead, three centres for interfaith dialogue have been opened: Georgetown in Washington DC, John Carroll in Cleveland Ohio and the Gregorian in Rome.
Fethullah Gülen sent a message for this new interfaith initiative with ACU, calling it a ‘beautiful development’. The Vice-Chancellor of ACU, Professor Peter Sheehan AO, signed a joint declaration of intent with Mr Orhan Cicek, Executive Administrator of the Australian Intercultural Society. As read by Assoc. Professor Raymond Canning, Inaugural Director, Asia-Pacific Centre for Inter-religious Dialogue, the declaration of intent states
Grateful for the strong and harmonious working relationship that has been built up between the two parties in relation to various projects since the year 2000, Australian Catholic University and the Australian Intercultural Society now intend to formalise this relationship, in the context of the University’s newly launched Asia-Pacific Centre for Inter-religious Dialogue, by moving towards the establishment of the Fethullah Gülen Chair in Islamic Studies.
Through the Centre and the University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the Fethullah Gülen Chair will provide a functional link between the Australian Intercultural Society (AIS) and the University, particularly in relation to research in Islamic Studies and Inter-religious Dialogue. It is envisaged that the creation of the Chair will foster leading-edge and nationally and internationally competitive research in Islamic Studies and Inter-religious Dialogue, which will inform the growth of these academic disciplines, as well as related education, practice and policy, in ways that will be beneficial both to the AIS and the University.