Abraham 2020, the ‘need to produce a pandemic of compassion’

19 Nov 2020

By Eric Leslie Martin

This year’s Abraham Conference was organised and hosted by the Coordinating Committee of representatives from Affinity Intercultural Foundation; the Columban Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations; the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies; the Uniting Church in Australia, Synod of NSW & ACT; AMUST; the Diocese of Parramatta; the NSW Ecumenical Council; the Australian Egyptian Forum Council; and the Indian Crescent Society of Australia. Photo: Sourced.

By Eric Martin

The 2020 Abraham Conference, “Interfaith on the Frontlines”, embraced and explored the profound changes caused by the pandemic, bringing together healthcare professionals from the Christian, Jewish and Islamic faiths to share their journey in addressing the many frontline challenges faced by each community in responding to COVID-19.

The online conference, in the style of TEDx Talks on 15 November, featured Catholic Ethicist Dr Daniel Fleming, Jewish social worker Renata Ieremias, and Islamic Hospitalist Dr Haroon Kasim.

Hosted by former ABC presenter and author Rachael Kohn AO, the discussion highlighted the specific needs of each community and the positive impact of faith when dealing with a global health crisis.

“Doctors, nurses and social workers are in a daily race to respond to the fear, sickness and loss, as well as the isolation and economic hardship that the pandemic has wrought in the lives of countless Australians,” Ms Kohn said.

“As professionals they require acute sensitivity and well-honed expertise in performing their duties, without losing hope that we will beat this virus.

“However, it seems there is a ‘silver lining’ to this pandemic, which is in the realisation that whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim, as individuals and a society, we have the same fundamental needs of compassion and understanding and oftentimes the comfort of the faith traditions and communities we hold dear,” she explained.

Dr Kasim, Chair of Health Workstream, shared the impact of bigotry on the Islamic community and how he learned first-hand about the power of compassion to heal during his decade of leadership experience in the Australian healthcare system – across multiple states and health services.

“We need to produce a pandemic of compassion,” Dr Kasim stated.

Ms Ieremias explained how various kinds of infirmity intensified the impact of the virus and highlighted how social workers are called upon operate in a range of complex settings, ranging from family situations to profound isolation.

She drew on some 23 years of professional experience as a clinician, manager and supervisor in the fields of child protection, mental health, domestic and family violence, PTSD, therapeutic intervention with addicted people and therapeutic intervention with victims and perpetrators of sexual abuse.

Dr Fleming, head of ethics formation for staff at St Vincent’s Health Australia, shared how the largest not-for-profit health care system in Australia was faced with the ethical challenge of how to most effectively allocate their (suddenly) limited resources in the early stages of the pandemic.

Almost every year, since 2002, the Abraham Conference brings together Jews, Christians and Muslims by celebrating the common bonds of ancestry and faith that unite them in their various approaches to Abraham, Sarah and Hagar – foundational figures for each ‘Abrahamic’ religion.

The conference seeks to overcome ignorance and prejudice and promotes better mutual understanding and cooperation among them in pursuit of the common good.