Diversity and the Common Good: Civil Society, Religion, and Catholic Sisters in a Small City
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These early sacramental records include the first official Catholic baptisms in Boston, in this case presided over by the French priest Florent Bouchard de la Poterie, who will later be deposed for "unworthy conduct. Catholics remain scattered across eastern Massachusetts. A report made to Bishop Carroll during this time states that there are only Catholics in Boston, 15 in Plymouth, 21 in Newburyport, and 3 in Salem.
An epidemic of yellow fever strikes Boston along with New York City and Philadelphia hard in the summer of , killing thousands. Fathers Cheverus and Matignon tirelessly care for the sick, earning praise and respect from Protestants and Catholics alike. Planning for the construction of the Holy Cross Church begins in Father Cheverus is appointed Bishop of Boston in , and the Diocese of Boston is officially established.
In the s, the city of Boston grows alongside the rest of the young country as New World trading and manufacturing companies launch to great success. Nationally, this decade sees the creation of the stars and stripes insignia and the writing of "The Star Spangled Banner. Having committed the engineering details of English and Scottish power looms to memory in secret, a young Francis Cabot Lowell returns to Massachusetts in and founds The Boston Manufacturing Company.
For a detailed look at the relationship between the textile industry and the growth of the Catholic Church, see our section on "Faith and Industry in Lowell. In , Boston changes its status from town to city.
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Infrastructure improvement projects begin in earnest. A steady number of Catholic immigrants settling in and around Boston results in new churches in Roxbury, Waltham, and Quincy. While Irish priests try their best to minister to all Catholics, newly arrived immigrants from other countries — including Germany -- prefer to practice their faith in their own language.
Bishop Benedict Joseph Fenwick requests German priests, and several arrive in Boston, but most choose to move on to the Midwest where they can serve larger German Catholic parishes. Thomas Aquinas in As more Catholics pour into Boston, their presence expands to the North Shore. Twenty new churches are established during this decade in the city and surrounding towns in eastern Massachusetts, from Marblehead to Foxboro.
While expansion of the church continues outward from the Boston area, with parishes founded as far north as Amesbury, the Greater Boston Catholic community grows as well. In the s, the original Holy Cross Cathedral is demolished to make way for its much larger successor in the South End. Additionally, Massachusetts plays a significant role in the American Civil War as a long time center of abolitionist thought and activism. The choice by many Catholic immigrants to take up the Union cause had the lasting effect of softening anti-Catholic prejudice in the North. In , after decades of conflict, the Kingdom of Italy consolidated the city-states along the Italian peninsula into a single nation.
Facing new economic difficulties under the regime, and encouraged by the call for laborers in America following the death tolls of the Civil War, many Italians made their way to the United States. Despite regional differences, in Boston, Italian immigrants famously settled together in the North End neighborhood.
Saint Leonard Church of Port Maurice, founded there in to serve this growing population, was the first Italian Catholic parish in the country as well as the city. While some worked in the booming textile mills or other industries, many brought their skills in whaling and fishing. Its name evokes the significance that both work and faith played in the fraternity of Portuguese-American Catholics.
Much like the Irish, Lithuanian Catholics arrived in the United States in high numbers following a great famine and political turmoil at home. Since Lithunia did not yet exist as a country, many Lithuanians were recorded in immigration documents as being Russian or Polish, but national and cultural identity was strong among the immigrant community. By the end of the 18th century, Catholics of various ethnicities were spread widely around New England, but there were very few priests and no centralized church to lead them.
At this time the only American diocese was in Baltimore—it encompassed the entire eastern seaboard, including the cities of New York, Philadelphia, and Boston. French Catholics decided to organize further leadership locally. Father Francis Anthony Matignon was a refugee of France's own Revolution, but when he came to New England in , he became an essential figure in Boston's Catholic community.
His work in Boston was that of a missionary. He was sent there at the request of Baltimore's Bishop Carroll, in the hopes that his influence could help settle cultural differences between Boston's Catholics and create a unified congregation. Then, in , he oversaw the completion of the first Holy Cross Church, which was funded in large part by donations from non-Catholic Bostonians, including U.
President John Adams. The community was still relatively small at this time, but soon other churches began to pop up.
Matignon and Cheverus laid the stage for Boston's Catholics, but new waves of immigration to Boston in the 19th century would come to define the community as we know it today. Famine and poverty hit Ireland hard in the first half of the century, most notably during the Great Irish Famine of , pushing more than a million working-class Irish to seek better lives across the Atlantic.
By the s, the Irish were Boston's largest ethnic group. Catholics from other European countries followed during this time as well, most notably the Italians who established a community in Boston's North End. As Boston's Catholic population grew, so did the prominence and power of the church, but prejudice still ran deep in the city. Over time, anti-Catholic sentiment evolved further away from its roots in the Protestant Reformation, and came to serve more and more as an excuse for xenophobia and classism.
For example, during the worldwide cholera epidemic of the early 19th century, disease spread via contaminated water in densely populated areas; in Boston, non-Catholics blamed the Irish Catholic community for the sickness. Fights and riots broke out in the streets between immigrant groups and the English-descended elite. The historically Puritan society distrusted the pageantry of Catholic religious practice, especially when it came to the loud music and keening of Irish funeral processions. But as time went on and ethnic diversity increased, it became difficult to deny the Catholic Church's place in the fabric of Boston.
Late on the night of August 11th, , an estimated fifty to a hundred men on a supposed rescue mission stormed the grounds of the Ursuline Convent in Charlestown, Massachusetts, now part of modern-day Somerville. The mob had been riled by rumors that a "mysterious woman" was being held captive by the nuns after one of the Sisters visited with a Protestant family and expressed doubts about her religious committment that she later retracted.
In the riots that ensued, the mob set fires, broke down doors and windows, and ransacked the building. The firemen called to the scene joined with spectators instead of intervening. The following night, on August 12th, a crowd returned and further destroyed the orchards, gardens, and fences. Anti-Catholic sentiments ran high in early New England, even after practice of the faith was made legal in the s.
Rumors that the Ursuline Convent, which also housed a school for girls, were holding residents against their will were fueled by a convergence of prejudice and paranoia. Old pains from Reformation-era Europe carried over into colonial fears that the Pope would influence American politics. Most of the students at the school were from wealthy Protestant families, and the working-class Protestant rioters feared what they saw as a conspiracy between their economic and religious antagonists.
Xenophobia was also a factor, as many Catholic immigrants to the United States came from different national and ethnic backgrounds than the Anglo-Saxon settlers. The city of Boston officially condemned the actions of the rioters at the Ursuline Convents, although of the thirteen men arrested, all were acquitted except one who was later pardoned.
Most of the nuns dispersed to Quebec. Without insurance or sufficient remittance to rebuild, the ruins sat unchanged for fifty years afterwards, in stark contrast to the nearby Bunker Hill Monument built in the s. The land was eventually leveled and developed for housing, but a few stones from the ruins were repurposed for a vestibule archway in Boston's Cathedral of the Holy Cross. As the population of the Catholic community increased, the need for more and more churches to serve the city and surrounding suburbs grew.
Boston's sharply divided ethnic neighborhoods fueled divisions in the Catholic community. In the 19th century, the Catholic Church in America was perceived by many outside of it as being an Irish church, but by , a sizeable population of German Catholics in Boston wanted priests who understood their customs and spoke their language. Beginning in , German-speaking priests were recruited to the area and they started to keep separate sacramental records for this local group of German Catholics.
Many other ethnic groups throughout Massachusetts also established parishes to meet their specific needs, culturally and geographically. Eventually, particularly in small towns where there was often just one church, geography trumped ethnicity, and a mix of ethnic groups could be found in many parishes. Some urban parishes, such as St. Paul's Church in Cambridge's Harvard Square, reflected a greater and more tolerant diversity than Boston.
There are even records that interracial marriages were performed within this parish through Many Portuguese Catholics, too, were of African ancestry or multiple ethnicities, arriving from the island colonies of Cape Verde and the Azores. The church came to play an essential role in Catholic life. For working class individuals, work often involved dispersal: whether factories and lumber yards, or as servants in wealthy Protestant homes. Because of this, church services on Sundays became the place for neighbors to come together, and for young people to find spouses.
The late 19th century saw an increase in young men's and women's programs at churches, designed to centralize social life within the Catholic community. Lowell, Massachusetts, and the surrounding cities and towns in the Merrimack Valley in northern Massachusetts played an important a role in the growth of the Catholic community. Considered the "cradle of the American Industrial Revolution," Lowell is named after the textile merchant who brought power looms to the area in the s.
The construction of dams to harness the Merrimack River's energy and the proliferation of manufacturing in the area coincided with early waves of immigrant groups seeking work, mostly French Canadian, Irish, and German Catholics. The majority of the textile workforce in particular were women and young girls.
As industry grew, the organization of society changed, too. Densely-populated ethnic neighborhoods replaced company-owned boarding houses, and churches became the hearts of their communities for politics and recreation as much as worship. The number of parishes increased dramatically as immigrants came to work in the Lowell mills. After the Civil War, with the expansion of the Merrimack Valley mills and the growth in immigrant worker populations, the number of Catholic parishes tripled in both Lowell and Lawrence, including French-speaking parishes to meet the needs of French-Canadian immigrants.
Catholics had struggled for the right to practice their religion and won. Now, alongside other laboring immigrant and minority groups, they fought for fair pay, overtime, and educational opportunities. In this way, the effort for religious acceptance by a once-outlawed demographic was inextricably linked with the origins of a national movement towards organized labor. In , the Religion Census reported that 45 percent of Massachusetts residents self-identify as Catholic—a massive presence for a religion whose practice was constitutionally illegal just three hundred years ago. Today, Boston is known as an iconic Catholic city.
In , after Bishop Cheverus stepped down from his position, Bishop Benedict Joseph Fenwick became the first non-French leader of the Boston diocese. As a missionary and a cultural outsider, Cheverus had been focused on propagation and conversion; Fenwick instead worked on uniting the existing Catholic community and smoothing over relations with Boston as a whole.
In he founded a Catholic newspaper which still exists today, now known as The Pilot. He also published a number of pamphlets explaining the true nature of Catholicism to the public. In addition, Fenwick opened Boston College, which began its life as a series of lectures in the basement of his cathedral; later, he opened a Jesuit school in Worcester called the College of the Holy Cross.
He worked hard to deal with riots spurred by anti-Catholic sentiment, to create positive relationships between the Church and Boston's Protestant elite, and to promote Catholic education across Massachusetts—and the institutions he created still stand today. By peering into the records of our past, from the very first parish on, we paint a picture of a quintessentially American city. We see a microcosm of diverse cultures, and we can trace the threads of these cultures across time. We can see how the threads knit together, and how they clash against each other.
We can understand the complex social fabric we live within today. Images of Boston's oldest parish records, including those from Holy Cross Cathedral and Holy Trinity, are available immediately to browse, which means you can view the records online but can't yet search records by name searchable records will be available at a later date. However, if you know the parish and rough years of the name you are looking for, you may be able to find it using our index.
Locating records in this unique collection varies slightly from volume to volume and parish to parish. Additional parishes will be made available as we complete them. Please watch this short video to learn how to browse parish records on our website. Humble Beginnings In the summer of , an earnest young French priest named Jean-Louis Lefebvre de Cheverus arrived in Boston, eager to serve the American Catholic church any way he could. Painting by Gilbert Stuart, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
The 7 Sacraments. Also known as Last Rites, this sacrament is administered to those who are dangerously ill, entrusting them to the Lord who will relieve their suffering and save them. Its essential properties are unity and indissolubility, which in Christian marriage obtain a special firmness by reason of the sacrament. See examples of early Church records. This image is from Holy Cross Boston Various Matignon, two important figures in the early Boston Church. Like many of the sacramental records, it is written in Latin.
Here are baptisms from Holy Trinity Boston Baptisms They are written in a German Gothic script. While the Holy Trinity Church was not built until , German Catholics organized to worship as early as as these records show. In , a young Jonathan Edwards wrote:. And what is peculiarly glorious in it, is the gospelizing the new and before unknown world, that which is so remote, so unknown, where the devil had reigned quietly from the beginning of the world, which is larger — taking in America, Terra Australis Incognita, Hollandia Nova, I say, that this new world should all worship the God of Israel, whose worship was then confined to so narrow a land, is wonderful and glorious!
Christianity came to Australia with the first British settlers on the First Fleet. The first religious census in divided the early colony into four groups: Protestants, Catholics, Jews and Pagans. The First Fleet brought tensions to Australia fuelled by historical grievances between Catholics and other Christians, tensions that would continue into the 20th century. The first chaplain, Richard Johnson , a Church of England cleric, was charged by Governor Arthur Phillip with improving "public morality" in the colony, but he was also heavily involved in health and education.
Though free settlers began to arrive in the late 18th century, it was the gold rush of the s that led to radically increased immigration. The new settlers brought with them their religious traditions, such as Irish Catholicism , Scottish Presbyterianism and English Anglicanism among others. Australian Aborigines suffered a decline during this period as they were dispossessed of their lands and diseases spread among their population. Christian churches organised missions during this period, formally intended to "civilise" Aboriginal communities and spread Christianity. The overall consequences of this activity are still disputed, but it contributed to the decline of indigenous languages and beliefs.
In Western Australia, the Anglican clergy saw themselves as pioneering a new society. Besides the usual religious roles of leading church building and public worship they took a major part in charity, education and public debate. They attempted to refashion it in their own ecclesiastical image based on English models. Drafted by the reformist attorney-general John Plunkett , the act established legal equality for Anglicans, Catholics and Presbyterians and was later extended to Methodists.
Freedom of Religion was enshrined in Section of the Constitution of Australia of There was a Lutheran population of German descent in South Australia. There were at least 15 Jews in the First Fleet, 14 convicts and one "free" child.
Diversity and the Common Good
From the s Malay divers were recruited with most subsequently repatriated. In , the government passed an act limiting immigration to those of European descent in what came to be known as the White Australia Policy. By effectively limiting the immigration of practitioners of different faiths, this policy ensured that Christianity remained the religion of the overwhelming majority of Australians for the foreseeable future and, indeed, to the present day.
The Australian constitution consists of several documents, including the Statute of Westminster and the Australia Act of , but there is only one reference to religion in the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia , signed into law in Notably, the constitution does not include a Bill Of Rights and, as a result, Australia's fundamental law has been criticised for its lack of explicit protection for several rights and freedoms.
However, Section of the Act to constitute the Commonwealth of Australia Australian Constitution provides that:. The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth. Technically, this article does not affect the states' authority to legislate on religion, nor would it block federal legislation on religion aside from that establishing an official religion of Australia.
In practice, though, the government respects these rights and contributes to the generally free practice of religion. In , the High Court of Australia defined religion as a complex of beliefs and practices which point to a set of values and an understanding of the meaning of existence. The ABS Census Dictionary defines "No Religion" as a category of religion which has subcategories such as agnosticism , atheism , Humanism and rationalism. HREOC's  addressing the human right to freedom of religion and belief in Australia against article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights stated that despite the legal protections that apply in different jurisdictions, many Australians suffer discrimination on the basis of religious belief or non-belief, including members of both mainstream and non-mainstream religions, and those of no religious persuasion.
A question on religion has been asked in every census taken in Australia, with the voluntary nature of this question having been specifically stated since In , the instruction "if no religion, write none" was introduced. This saw a sevenfold increase from the previous census year in the percentage of Australians stating they had no religion. Since , this percentage has progressively increased to Data on religious affiliation are used for such purposes as planning educational facilities, aged persons' care and other social services provided by religion-based organisations; the location of church buildings; the assigning of chaplains to hospitals, prisons, armed services and universities; the allocation of time on public radio and other media; and sociological research.
The census question about religion is optional, and asks "What is the person's religion? The census identified that Another 8. The second-largest classification was the As in many Western countries, the level of active participation in church worship is much lower than this; weekly attendance at church services is about 1. According to the time series data released with the census , the fastest growing religious classifications over the ten years between and were:.
Meanwhile, the greatest decreases were in the major Christian denominations; all Christian denominations combined decreased from As of , Buddhists 1. The Christians 2. Prior to British settlement in Australia, the animist beliefs of Australia's indigenous people had been practised for millennia.
In the case of mainland Aboriginal Australians , their spirituality is known as the Dreaming and it places a heavy emphasis on belonging to the land. The collection of stories which it contains shaped Aboriginal law and customs. Aboriginal art , story and dance continue to draw on these spiritual traditions. In the case of the Torres Strait Islanders who inhabit the islands between Australia and New Guinea, spirituality and customs reflected their Melanesian origins and dependence on the sea.
Indigenous Australians have a complex oral tradition and spiritual values based upon reverence for the land and a belief in the Dreaming. The Dreaming is at once the ancient time of creation and the present day reality of Dreaming. There were a great many different groups, each with their own individual culture, belief structure, and language. These cultures overlapped to a greater or lesser extent, and evolved over time. The Rainbow Serpent is a major dream spirit for Aboriginal people across Australia.
The Yowie and Bunyip are other well known dream spirits. At the time of the British settlement, traditional religions were animist and also tended to have elements of ancestor worship. According to the census, 5, persons or less than 0. Aboriginal beliefs and spirituality, even among those Aborigines who identify themselves as members of a traditional organised religion, are intrinsically linked to the land generally and to certain sites of significance in particular.
The census reported that almost 72 percent of Aborigines practised some form of Christianity and 16 percent listed no religion. The census contained no comparable updated data. European culture and Christianity have had a significant impact on Indigenous Australians.
As in many colonial situations the churches both facilitated the loss of Indigenous Australian culture and religion and also facilitated its maintenance. The involvement of Christians in Aboriginal affairs has evolved significantly since Around the year , many churches and church organisations officially apologised for past failures to adequately respect indigenous cultures and address the injustices of the dispossession of indigenous people.
In the Torres Strait Islands , the Coming of the Light Festival marks the day the Christian missionaries first arrived on the islands on 1 July and introduced Christianity to the region. This is a significant festival for Torres Strait Islanders, who are predominantly Christian. Religious and cultural ceremonies are held across Torres Strait and mainland Australia. Prominent Aboriginal activist Noel Pearson , himself raised at a Lutheran mission in Cape York , has written that missions throughout Australia's colonial history "provided a haven from the hell of life on the Australian frontier while at the same time facilitating colonisation".
Since the arrival of the first Christian settlers on the First Fleet of British ships in , Christianity has grown to be the major religion in Australia. Consequently, the Christian festivals of Christmas and Easter are public holidays, the skylines of Australian cities and towns are marked by church and cathedral spires and the Christian churches have played an integral role in the development of education, health and welfare services in Australia.
Pentecostal churches are also present with megachurches being found in most states for example, Hillsong Church and Paradise Community Church. Christian Reformed Churches of Australia. For much of Australian history, the Church of England in Australia, now known as the Anglican Church of Australia , was the largest religious affiliation, however multicultural immigration has contributed to a decline in its relative position, with the Catholic Church benefiting from the opening of post-war Australia to multicultural immigration and becoming the largest group.
The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia and other congregations associated with non-British cultures have also expanded. In his welcoming address to the Catholic World Youth Day in Sydney, the Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd , said that Christianity had been a positive influence on Australia: "It was the" Christian "church that began first schools for the poor, it was the church that began first hospitals for the poor, it was the church that began first refuges for the poor and these great traditions continue for the future. Today, the Catholic education system is the second biggest sector after government schools, with more than , students in and around 21 per cent of all secondary school enrolments.
The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia also has 8 schools across the country. There are two Catholic universities in Australia, the Australian Catholic University which opened in following the amalgamation of four Catholic tertiary institutions in eastern Australia and the University of Notre Dame Australia which is based in Perth. Catholic Social Services Australia 's 63 member organisations help more than a million Australians every year. Anglican organisations work in health, missionary work, social welfare and communications; and the Uniting Church does extensive community work, in aged care, hospitals, nursing, family support services, youth services and with the homeless, and especially throughout inland Australia.
Religious orders founded many of Australia's hospitals, such as St Vincent's Hospital, Sydney , which was opened as a free hospital in by the Sisters of Charity and is now Australia's largest not-for-profit health provider and has trained prominent Australian surgeons such as Victor Chang. Sectarianism in Australia tended to reflect the political inheritance of Britain and Ireland. Until , the vast majority of Catholics in Australia were of Irish descent, causing the British majority to question their loyalty to the British Empire.
The first Catholic priests arrived in Australia as convicts in , but the Castle Hill Rebellion of alarmed the British authorities and no further priests were allowed in the colony until , when London sent John Joseph Therry and Philip Connolly. A notable period of sectarianism re-emerged during the First World War and the Easter Uprising in Ireland,  but the significance of sectarian division declined dramatically after World War II. There was a growth in non-religious adherence, but also a diversification of Christian churches especially the growth of Greek, Macedonian, Serbian and Russian Orthodox churches , together with an increase in ecumenism among Christians, through organisations such as the National Council of Churches in Australia.
One of the most visible signs of the historical importance of Christianity to Australia is the prominence of churches in most Australian towns and cities. Wardell also worked on the design of St Patrick's Cathedral, Melbourne — among the finest examples of ecclesiastical architecture in Australia.
Along with community attitudes to religion, church architecture changed significantly during the 20th century. Urban churches, such as the Wayside Chapel in Sydney, differed markedly from traditional ecclesiastical designs. In the later 20th century, distinctly Australian approaches were applied at places such as Jambaroo Benedictine Abbey , where natural materials were chosen to "harmonise with the local environment" and the chapel sanctuary is of glass overlooking rainforest.
The Christian festivals of Christmas and Easter are national public holidays in Australia. Christmas, which recalls the birth of Jesus Christ , is celebrated on 25 December during the Australian summer although on 7 January by some Eastern Orthodox and is an important cultural festival even for many non-religious Australians.
The European traditions of Christmas trees , roast dinners, carols and gift giving are all continued in Australia, but they might be conducted between visits to the beach, and Santa Claus is said in song to be drawn on his sleigh by six white boomer kangaroos.
The first contacts that Islam had with Australia was when Muslim fishermen native to Makassar, which is today a part of Indonesia, visited North-Western Australia long before British settlement in This contact of South East Asian ethnic groups of Islamic faith can be identified from the graves they dug for their comrades who died on the journey, being that they face Mecca in Arabia , in accordance with Islamic regulations concerning burial, as well as evidence from Aboriginal cave paintings and religious ceremonies which depict and incorporate the adoption of Makassan canoe designs and words.
In later history, throughout the 19th century following British settlement, other Muslims came to Australia including the Muslim 'Afghan' cameleers, who used their camels to transport goods and people through the otherwise unnavigable desert and pioneered a network of camel tracks that later became roads across the Outback. Australia's first mosque was built for them at Marree , South Australia in Other outback mosques were established at places like Coolgardie , Cloncurry , and Broken Hill — and more permanent mosques in Adelaide, Perth and later Brisbane.
A legacy of this pioneer era is the presence of wild camels in Outback and the oldest Islamic structure in the southern hemisphere , at Central Adelaide Mosque. Nonetheless, despite their significant role in Australia prior to the establishment of rail and road networks, the formulation of the White Australia policy at the time of Federation made immigration difficult for the 'Afghans' and their memory slowly faded during the 20th century, until a revival of interest began in the s.
From the s onwards, under the leadership of Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser , Australia began to pursue multiculturalism. Overseas born Muslims come from a great variety of nations and ethnic groups — with large Lebanese and Turkish communities. Following the 11 September attacks , associations drawn between the political ideology of Osama Bin Laden and the religion of Islam have stirred debate in some quarters in Australia regarding Islam's relationship with the wider community — with some advocating greater emphasis on assimilation, and others supporting renewed commitment to diversity.
The deaths of Australians in bombings by militant Islamic fundamentalists in New York in , Bali in —5 and London in ; as well as the sending of Australian troops to East Timor in , Afghanistan in and Iraq in ; the arrest of bomb plotters in Australia; and concerns about certain cultural practices such as the wearing of the Burkha have all contributed to a degree of tension in recent times   A series of comments by a senior Sydney cleric, Sheikh Taj El-Din Hilaly also stirred controversy, particularly his remarks regarding "female modesty" following an incident of gang rape in Sydney   Australians were among the targets of Islamic Fundamentalists in the Bali bombings in Indonesia and attack on Australian Embassy in Jakarta and the South East Asian militant group Jemaah Islamiyah has been of particular concern to Australians.
The Australian government's mandatory detention processing system for asylum seekers became increasingly controversial after the 11 September attacks. A significant proportion of recent Asylum seekers arriving by boat have been Muslims fleeing the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere. Some Islamic leaders and social commentators claim that Islam has suffered from unfair stereotyping    Violence and intimidation was directed against Muslims and people of Middle Eastern appearance during southern Sydney's Cronulla riots in Today, over , people in Australia identify as Muslim, with diverse communities concentrated mainly in Sydney and Melbourne.
More than half are non-practising  cultural Muslims. Since the s Islamic schools have been established as well as more than mosques and prayer centres. At least eight Jewish convicts are believed to have been transported to Sydney aboard the First Fleet in , when the first British settlement was established on the continent. An estimated , Jews currently live in Australia,  the majority being Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern European descent, with many being refugees and Holocaust survivors who arrived during and after World War II.
The Jewish population has increased slightly in recent times  due to immigration from South Africa and the former Soviet Union. The largest Jewish community in Australia is in Melbourne , with about 60,, followed by Sydney with about 45, members. Smaller communities are dispersed among the other state capitals.
Following the conclusion of the British colonial period, Jews have enjoyed formal equality before the law in Australia and have not been subject to civil disabilities or other forms of state-sponsored anti-Semitism which exclude them from full participation in public life. Sydney's gothic design Great Synagogue , consecrated in , is a notable place of Jewish worship in Australia. The Sydney Jewish Museum opened in to commemorate the Holocaust "challenge visitors' perceptions of democracy, morality, social justice and human rights". Until the s, all synagogues in Australia were nominally Orthodox , with most acknowledging leadership of the Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom.
To this day the vast majority of synagogues in Australia are Orthodox. However, there is a wide range of Orthodox congregations, including Mizrachi , Chabad and Adass Israel congregations. There are also Sephardi congregations. There had been short-lived efforts to establish Reform congregations as early as the s. However, under the leadership of Ada Phillips , a sustained liberal congregation, Temple Beth Israel , was established in Melbourne.
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Following these two congregations, a number of other Liberal synagogues have been founded in other cities. Since Conservative Masorti services have been held as an alternative service usually in the Neuweg, the smaller second synagogue within Temple Emanuel, Woollahra, Sydney. In , Kehilat Nitzan , Melbourne's first Conservative Masorti congregation was established, with foundation president John Rosenberg. The congregation appointed its first rabbi, Ehud Bandel in In , the first humanistic Jewish congregation, known as Kehilat Kolenu, was established in Melbourne with links to the cultural Jewish youth movement Habonim Dror.
Later in , a similar congregation was established in Sydney, known as Ayelet HaShachar. The services are loosely based on the Humanistic Jewish movement in the United States and the musical-prayer group Nava Tehila in Israel. Buddhists began arriving in Australia in significant numbers during the goldrush of the s with an influx of Chinese miners. However, the population remained low until the s.
Buddhism is now one of the fastest growing religions in Australia. Immigration from Asia has contributed to this, but some people of non-Asian origin have also converted. Buddhist temples can be very active. Quang Minh temple in Braybrook, Melbourne, Victoria gets about 2, people through every Sunday and gives a free vegetarian meal to about people. For important events, more than 20, people come. Even more come to the Nan Tien Temple , or "Southern Paradise Temple", in Wollongong , New South Wales, began construction in the early s, adopting the Chinese palace building style and is now the largest Buddhist temple in the Southern Hemisphere.
Hindus number , according to the census, making Hinduism the fifth largest and the second fastest growing religion in Australia Many who remained worked in small business, as camel drivers, merchants and hawkers , selling goods between small rural communities. Their population increased dramatically from the s and s and more than doubled between the and census to around , people.
At present many Hindus are well-educated professionals in fields such as medicine, engineering, commerce and information technology. Among Australia's best-known Hindus is the singer Kamahl. It was established in to meet the needs of the growing Hindu community. Sikhism is currently the fastest growing religion in Australia. According to census data, Australia's Sikh population grew from 72, to , between and , an average growth rate of Jainism is currently the fourth fastest growing religion in Australia, recording 4, adherents in and growing an average of 7.
The overwhelming majority In the census , 32, Australians identified their religion as a Pagan religion including 8, people who identified their religion as Wicca or Witchcraft. Australia is one of the least religious nations in the developed world, with religion not described as a central part in many people's lives. Atheist interests in Australia are represented nationally by the Atheist Foundation of Australia. Humanist interests in Australia are represented nationally by the Council of Australian Humanist Societies. Rationalist interests in Australia are represented nationally by the Rationalist Society of Australia.
The Global Atheist Convention , a prominent atheist event, has been held in Melbourne. The census  shows 53 listed groups down to members, most of them Christian denominations, many of them national versions such as Greek , Serbian Orthodox and Assyrian Orthodox.