Chaplaincy to Migrants and Refugees

Korean chaplaincy australiaMuch has been documented about the delivery of pastoral care to Australia’s immigrant communities in their study of Australia’s religious diversity. Immigrant and refugee chaplaincy operates in a different framework from other chaplaincy types. Many immigrant groups establish their own independent churches such as by the Orthodox Churches (e.g. the Serbian Orthodox Church) where ethnicity and religion are very closely aligned. Most mainstream Christian Churches have established special centres and even parishes for their larger ethnic communities e.g. the Uniting Church has many Korean communities.

As the major mainstream Church most impacted by immigration, the Catholic Church has the most developed system centred around priests or deacons known as migrant chaplains who mostly, but not always, come from the particular country – many Australian priests speak Italian. For the Archdiocese of Melbourne, the 2015 Catholic Directory nominates chaplains for the following groups: Armenian (1 chaplain), Burmese (1), Cambodian and Laotian (1), Chinese Cantonese (1), Chinese Mandarin (1), Coptic (1), Croatian (4), Fijian (1), Filipino Tagalog (1), German (1), Hungarian (1), Italian (7), Korean (1), Lithuanian (1), Maltese (3), Polish (9), Russian (1), Samoan (2), Slovenian (2), South Sudanese (1), Spanish and Portuguese (3), Syrian (1), Syro-Malabar (3), Tamil (1), Tongan (1) and Vietnamese (4). Some of these groups have separate centres such as Croatian Catholic Centres in Ardeer and Clifton Hill, St. Anthony’s Italian Shrine in Hawthorn, the Polish Divine Mercy Shrine in Keysborough, Baraga House for Slovenians in Kew, St. Vincent Liem Vietnamese Centre located in a former pub in Flemington and the Sts. Huan-Thien Catholic Centre in Keysborough.

Korean OrthodoxIn 2002, it was reported that across Australia the Uniting Church had 117 ethno-specific congregations, 23 ethnic fellowships and two faith communities. The largest were the Koreans (33 congregations etc.), followed by Tongan (29), Fijian (11), Indonesian (12), Samoan (8), Tamil (7), Hindi (5), Cook Islander (5), Chinese (4), Sudanese (4), Dutch (3), Vietnamese (3), Nuiean (3), Pacific Islander (2), Rotuman (2), Filipino (2), Armenian (1), Cambodian (1), Farsi (1), Taiwanese (1), Macedonian (1), Melanesian (1), Nauran (1) and Tokelauan (1) (Cahill et al. 2004).

Multicultural chaplaincy came onto the Melbourne Anglican agenda during the episcopacy of David Penman, Archbishop of Melbourne (1984 – 1989). More recently, at its 2013 Synod, multicultural ministry for emerging communities was made a priority with the appointment of Rev. Alan Nichols as coordinator. Its outreach has been targeted particularly to the Chinese, Indonesian, Karen, Mar Thoma, South Indian, South Sudanese, Tamil and Tonga communities.

These communities with their chaplains and pastoral leaders operate quite independently within their own religious structures. Migrant chaplains operate as pastors to ethnoreligious, non-territorial parishes often with a special chapel or temple or shrine or prayer centre. Another aspect is that the main Christian churches have an outreach to the Aboriginal communities such as the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry.

Immigration Detention Centres
Christmas Island IDCImmigration Detention is provided with Religion Liaison Officers in Australia and in overseas detention. These are selected by the contractor on the basis of ability to coordinate religious and cultural activities within the detention facility. Religion Liaison Officers also work outside the Detention Centre by way of developing strong networks with various religious and cultural organisations vis-a-vis the needs of detainees, and the facilitation and observance of religious services. Networking with outside cultural groups is also part of this role.


Baraga House for Slovenians in Kew
Baraga House for Slovenians in Kew