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Tuesday, 20 March 2012
Page: 3657


Mr MELHAM (Banks) (19:48): I rise to offer my condolences to the Coptic community on the death of His Holiness Pope Shenouda III on 17 March 2012. The 2006 census revealed that almost 20,000 people identify as members of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Australia: 12,864 are in NSW and of those at that time 1,061 were living in my electorate in the seat of Banks. The adjoining electorate of Barton had the second largest number with the largest being in that electorate of Chifley. The numbers were very much concentrated in those three electorates. I particularly offer my condolences to the Coptic community in the seat of Banks and especially to Reverend Father Moussa Soliman, the Pastor of St Abraams Church in Peakhurst, and his congregation.

The late Pope Shenouda visited Australia on six occasions. The first visit was in 1989 when he met with the then Prime Minister Bob Hawke. He is credited with the growth of the Coptic Church in Australia and New Zealand. In 1999 the church saw the enthronement of the first bishop in Melbourne, His Grace Bishop Suriel.

In Australia there are 42 churches, two theological colleges, five primary and secondary schools, three monasteries and a hostel for the elderly. They will all be grieving. Religious organisations in migrant communities are very different from those in other communities. My background is that of a Maronite. There is a very, very strong emotional attachment in those communities to their religious leaders. The sorrow and the grieving within the Coptic community would be enormous at this point in time. Just as people look to their politicians to provide worldly support, it is their religious leaders they look to for spiritual support. In terms of a lot of the suffering that people have on this earth, they are strengthened by the spiritual reward in heaven as they know it.

The bond that I have witnessed in the Coptic community is very strong. At times such as the uprising in Egypt, where the Copts see themselves—and they are—being singled out unfairly because the practice of their religion, religious leaders play a very important role in their attempts to soothe and console the communities. That is why the death of His Holiness would be felt very heavily within the Coptic community. We need, in some respects, to walk in their shoes because the burden in their shoes is much greater than the burden that we sometimes feel.

I want to associate myself with the remarks of all who have spoken on this condolence motion, on both sides of the House. This is a time when we all come together, when there are no politics being played, particularly in recognition of the religious contribution to the stability of these communities and the healing that occasionally needs to happen. All sides recognise that; all sides have experienced it.

To be honest with you, those of us with a bit of migrant blood in us, a migrant background, have a level of empathy—no disrespect to others. You need to have been there and experienced it in that particular way. I have seen the grieving in the Maronite community when a death occurs. I have had the grieving in my own family. Those outside the particular communities sometimes do not quite get how much a death can affect you, even if it is not a relative's death. A spiritual leader is something even more than a relative in those communities because of the spiritual link and what is given to those communities by their spiritual leader in terms of leadership and, indeed, when a death occurs within those communities, how the spiritual leader sensitively deals with the families. So they are regarded in each and every household in those communities as part and parcel of the family itself. They are a valued component of the individual family. I do grieve with them. I recognise that I can never grieve in this instance at the depth of their grief. I commend my colleagues for their thoughts and associate myself with everything that has been said to today.