For decades Migrant Chaplains have worked quietly and effectively in the Archdiocese of Brisbane. Their ministry was particularly significant during and especially after World War II when there was a huge wave of migrants from war ravaged Europe. Although they did a wonderful job and were very dedicated, they ministered very much individually and often in isolation from parish life and the rest of the Archdiocese.
Through the then Catholic Immigration Office established in 1949, a few of these Chaplains started a regular and more coordinated contact with the Archdiocese. The Chaplains began to meet regularly as a group in the early 70’s during the time of Fr Frank Lourigan, then Director of CIO.
The Catholic Immigration Office (now Centre for Multicultural Pastoral Care) had always welcomed the Chaplains to the Archdiocese providing them not only support and goodwill but also a place to meet. This mutual understanding continued with the succeeding Catholic Immigration Directors — from Fr Michael McCarthy in the 80’s to Mary Gavin (again in 2005) and CMPC’s Jose Zepeda in the 90’s right up to the present directorship of Clyde Cosentino.
The group also enjoyed much support from the bishops who were given the responsibility to oversee the migrants and refugee ministry in the archdiocese — Bishop John Gerry, Bishop Michael Putney, Bishop Joseph Oudeman and the late Bishop James Cuskelly. Through the years the group had welcomed and farewelled many Chaplains, Priests and Religious who have all effectively ministered to their respective ethnic communities.
As the Archdiocese adopted the multicultural guidelines set out in “We are one body”, the Group was made into an “Ethnic Communities Deanery” in January 2001 with then Chaplain to the Dutch Community, Father Joseph Oudeman OFM Cap, as Dean. This non-geographic (not parish/region-based) deanery operated effectively for two years and even took an active part in the Synod Consultation Process. The deanery was discontinued with the appointment of Fr Joseph as Auxiliary Bishop in February 2003 as he took on the responsibility of being the bishop responsible Migrant Chaplains and their Communities in the Archdiocese of Brisbane. After much deliberation and soul searching as to their identity and purpose, the group decided on the name "Ethnic Ministers Group" which was deemed more inclusive and suited members who are not official Chaplains to communities — priests and religious sisters who provide the same pastoral care and/or spiritual support to their respective ethnic communities. The Ethnic Ministers Group is not a formally constituted body but a group of people who voluntarily come together to meet and share their experiences, culture, hopes and concerns and be a support to one another. Their purpose is to assist migrants integrate into the mainstream community and at the same time assist them to retain their distinct faith expressions and cultural identity. They also assist those who, because of language barriers, are unable to fully participate in the mainstream parish activities.
The Ethnic Ministers Group meets every two months at CMPC. These meetings provide an opportunity for members to get to know each other and their communities. Similar as they may all seem, each chaplain, priest and religious is as distinctly different as their individual communities.
The nature of ethnic groups coming to Australia has significantly changed over the years. After WWII migration to Australia comprised mainly of Europeans due to the White Australia Policy. With the discontinuation of this policy, arrivals from non-European countries increased. The chaplains, priests and religious pastoral workers have carried out a marvellous work throughout these changes in the migration influx. Without them providing support and fellowship, many of these migrants and refugees would have stopped practicing their faith or would have been lost to other beliefs.
In the past, the CMPC Director chaired the Migrant Chaplains Meeting. As they took on their new name in 2004 the Group also decided on a yearly roster of Chairpersons to lead their meetings.
- Mr Jose Zepeda - 1994 - 2003
- Fr Joseph Oudeman OFM Cap - 2003
- Fr Franco Filipetto - 2004
- Fr Albert Chan - 2005
- Fr Luigi Sabbadin CS - 2006
- Fr Andrew Kolazkowski - 2007
- Fr Mauro Conte CS - 2008
- Fr Sylvester Karasiuk SChr - 2009 to 2011
- Sr Rosa Vazzano FDCC - 2012 to 2014
Over recent years the Ethnic Ministers Group and their communities have also confidently taken on the reins of organising the Archdiocesan Multicultural Mass which was previously organised by CMPC.
Multicultural Mass is an annual archdiocesan celebration of faith and cultural diversity held on the last Sunday of August in observance of the National Refugee and Refugee Week (last week of August). Most Chaplains and Priests ministering to ethnic communities concelebrate at this event.