An Overview

Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerants in the Archdiocese of Brisbane

The face of the Catholic Church around the world has been undergoing a dramatic change in recent years.  The centre of gravity, previously Anglo-Celtic, has now moved to places like Africa, Asia and Latin America.  This shift in spiritual and human energy is reflected in Catholic dioceses across Australia including the Archdiocese of Brisbane.


  • Immigrants within the Diocese

Statistics from the 2016 Census show that 28% of Australia’s population is born overseas, from nearly 200 countries.  Australia today has more than 100 religions and 300 languages spoken at home[1].  Among the overseas-born, 47% are Christians, 31% are Buddhists, 28% are Islamic, 27% are Hindu, 7.6% are Sikh and 3.2% are Jewish.  It is worth noting that, of the total population, 27% of overseas-born and 34% of Australian-born do not identify at all with any religion.  This is a significant rise from 20% in 2011 and 17% in 2006[2].  Of Australia’s 23,401,892 total population, 22.6% are Catholics; 24.7 Catholics were born overseas with 20.4% speaking a language other than English (LOTE) at home[3].

Catholics born overseas have faith expressions, experiences and expectations of Church life that are different from Catholics who are born in Australia.  Migration comes with gain and loss.  Some who experienced significant loss tend to regard their faith as the only belonging they have that no one can take away.  It is important to take into account such migrant experience when encountering a migrant who ‘expects differently’ from the Anglo-Celtic norm.  Pope Francis spells this out in his message for the 104th World Day of Migrants and Refugees.  As Christians, Pope Francis asks that we all ‘welcome, protect, promote and integrate’ migrants and refugees.

Table 1 below provides a snapshot of Cultural Communities, including the 17 official Chaplaincies, in the Archdiocese of Brisbane.  The figures may also be useful in determining needs and gaps.

Table 1: Ministry Reach – Community Chaplains – Archdiocese of Brisbane
(Migrant Chaplains, Cross Cultural Pastoral Ministers)
[Mass in languages other than English, various faith and community events, pilgrimages, home visits, etc]

[click image below to enlarge]

  • General Data on Immigrants – Australia

Refugees 2015-2016[4]

In 2015-2016, the Australian Government granted 17,555 refugee and humanitarian visas. These included:

2,003 visas for people already in Australia (onshore)

15,552 visas for people outside Australia (offshore), including:

  • 3,790 visas to people displaced by conflicts in Syria and Iraq (as part of the Government’s commitment to deliver 12,000 additional humanitarian places for these people)
  • 6,730 Refugee visas
  • 5,032 Visas under the Special Humanitarian Program
  • 1,277 Women at Risk visas


DIBP reports the following number of individuals who arrived in Australia in 2017:

Total Migration and Child Program places granted – 162,417

Temporary Visas granted:

Maritime Crew and Transit – 351,516
Students – 378,292
Temporary Resident (including skilled) – 244,929
Visitor – 5,639,167
Working Holiday Maker – 210,456

Immigration and Religious Affiliation in Australia[6]

Census figures show that the number of people who identify as having ‘no religion’ has grown – from 18.8% in 2006 to 30.1% in 2016.  An article in Pointers September 2017 issue states it is ‘highly likely that the next Census in 2021, less than half the population will identify as Christian’.

Based on comparisons of 2011 and 2016 Census, the Catholic religion showed a decline of 3%.  Despite this drawback, immigration has continued to boost Catholic numbers and without immigrants, the decline would have been much steeper.  Christian Research Association’s Pointers (September 2017 and December 2017 issues) presents an in-depth report and analysis of immigration and religious identification in Australia based on census 2006 – 2016.

Welcome Provided by Diocesan Structures

For many years, the government relied heavily on the Church to provide welcome and hospitality to migrants and refugees.  In response, the Church has led the way and provided creative and proactive models for welcome and resettlement of new arrivals.

The Centre for Multicultural Pastoral Care (CMPC) (previously known for 45 years as Catholic Immigration Office tasked to receive post-war migrants and refugees) was established in 1994 as an ecclesial agency of the Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane.  Tasked to direct and coordinate pastoral care to migrants and refugees, CMPC operated for the first 10 years as a drop-in Centre with staff and volunteers providing direct service delivery to migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.  Due to major reorganisations and restructuring within the archdiocese, and because the Government has taken on a more responsive role in providing settlement service agencies, CMPC moved from being a direct service-delivery agency to being a conduit — a link and wealth of information on migrant and refugee matters, within the archdiocese and beyond.

With regard to structure, CMPC operates in the following levels:

Pastoral Initiatives/Engagements

For the newly-arrived, the Community Chaplains are usually the first point of contact.  However, CMPC ensures that parishes are always made aware of the importance to ‘welcome, protect, promote and integrate’ migrants and refugees via its communication tools (website, newsletter and Facebook page) and by promoting annual events such as Harmony Day (raising awareness on the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in March), Refugee Week (in June), and National Migrant and Refugee Sunday and World Day of Migrants and Refugees (in September).

  • We Are One Body Second Edition (2017)

The Archdiocese of Brisbane continued to update its guidelines for multicultural pastoral care.  The document We Are One Body published by CMPC in 1999 was updated in 2017 to reflect the present multicultural reality in the archdiocese.

  • Annual Archdiocesan Multicultural Mass

Multicultural Mass, (Immigration Sunday or Migrant & Refugee Sunday in the past), is an annual archdiocesan celebration of faith and cultural diversity held on the last Sunday of August in observance of the National Migrant and Refugee Sunday/Week (last Sunday/week of August).  This Mass at the Cathedral of St Stephen in Brisbane is celebrated each year by the Archbishop of Brisbane along with priests ministering to ethnic communities and draws a crowd of more than a thousand each year.  Mass is usually followed by a sharing and enjoyment food and cultural entertainment.  Multicultural Mass has been celebrated in the Archdiocese of Brisbane in the last 45 years.  In recent years, an increasing number of parishes have begun celebrating their own parish Multicultural Mass on Migrant and Refugee Sunday, or on another Sunday during the year.

  • Opportunities for Mutual Learning

In 2012, 2014 and 2017, CMPC took part in recurring national conferences on pastoral care of migrants and refugees in Australia and fed through information and insights to local parishes to raise awareness and encourage action.  Likewise, CMPC promoted archdiocesan events, information and resources to cultural communities so that they are encouraged away from isolation and into belonging and integration.

  • Continuation of Cataloguing Project

In 2008 CMPC received a grant from the Community Heritage Grants Program through the National Library of Australia to cover the purchase of archival supplies that will allow for the appropriate storage of historical material and photographs at CMPC so that researchers, the Church and various family members will be able to research post-World War II migration to Australia in the future, where the Catholic church in Brisbane played a significant role.  The project involves sorting, shifting and categorizing of historical data and photos which has been collected of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers arriving in Australia, particularly in Brisbane, since World War II.

  • Year of Mercy Archdiocesan Refugee Support

During the Year of Mercy in 2016, CMPC assisted in the coordination of refugee and migrant support through parishes and schools in response to the Archbishop’s call for an archdiocesan response to the Syrian/Iraqi refugee intake.   CMPC served as a conduit between major settlement agencies in Queensland and the generous offer of support coming from parishes, schools and communities in the archdiocese.

  • Deanery Grants

From 2011 to 2013, deanery grants and World Youth Day Sydney initiatives assisted in the rejuvenation of ethnic communities in the archdiocese.  Youth groups from ethnic communities were particularly revitalised and many projects and milestones were achieved.  The grants have since ceased and resulted to a gradual tapering off and an apparent lull’ particularly in youth leadership from 2014 onwards.  With the creation of Youth Evangelisation in 2014, CMPC has since encouraged ethnic youth groups and Youth Evangelisation office to keep in close communication with each other regarding youth events and initiatives.

Presence of priests and collaborators who speak the language of the immigrants

For decades Migrant Chaplains (locally called Community Chaplains) have worked quietly and effectively in the Archdiocese of Brisbane.  In the early 70s, the then Catholic Immigration Office began to host regular meetings for these Chaplains.  CMPC continued this practice of hosting the Chaplains’ meeting.  From 2011 – 2017, the Community Chaplains met six times each year.  The Chaplains had attended formation/retreats at the beginning of the year over the said period, and also end the year with a Christmas lunch hosted by the Archbishop of Brisbane.  The various activities of these communities were regularly documented and shared for the information of archdiocese and beyond through CMPC’s internet, print and social media presence.

In 2011, there were 18 Community Chaplains (priests or religious sisters) and 16 chaplaincies in the archdiocese: African and newly arrived in Logan (including Burmese and Sri Lankan), Chinese, Croatian, Filipino, Latin American, Indonesian, Italian, Korean, Maronite, Melkite, Polish, Samoan, South Sudanese, Timor Leste, Vietnamese and Ukrainian.

The above mentioned chaplaincies continue to exist in 2017, with the exception of the Filipino chaplaincy which was dissolved in the same year, and with the addition of the Brazilian and Indian Syro Malabar communities.  The Filipino, Indian Syro Malankara, Tongan, Fijian, Papua New Guinean and Syriac Catholics do not have Chaplains but gather as organised faith groups in their preferred parish/es.   These communities are not represented at the bi-monthly Community Chaplains’ meetings but participate in the annual archdiocesan Multicultural Mass.

As stipulated in We Are One Body, and in coordination with relevant archdiocesan structures, CMPC facilitates agreements between a parish and an ethnic community regarding use of church and parish facilities for the celebration of Mass, sacraments and other ceremonies.  There are a number of parishes that accommodate more than one ethnic community in the parish.  CMPC also ensures that all Chaplaincies and Communities are in compliance with archdiocesan policies relating to areas such as safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults, finance, insurance and workplace health and safety.

In recent years, Community Chaplains have also assumed additional concurrent roles in the archdiocese as — Parish Priest, Associate Pastor, Hospital Chaplain, Air Force Chaplain, Tertiary Chaplain or supply priest.

Pastoral Care of Foreign Students

According to DIPB, a total of 378,292 students arrived in Australia in 2017.  Community Chaplains play an important role in the pastoral care of foreign students in the local area.  In 2017, a group of very committed international students cared for by the Latin American Chaplaincy has formed connections with organisations to raise awareness about social justice and human rights particularly in the hospitality industry where these students are partly employed.  In addition to the Community Chaplains, CMPC includes University Chaplains in its annual information dissemination of National Migrant and Refugee Sunday resources to maintain connections and continue raising awareness about the need for pastoral care of foreign students in Brisbane.

Youth Initiatives / Formation

From 2011 to 2013, as deanery grants continue to rejuvenate ethnic communities in the archdiocese, catechetical resources and programs including those produced and facilitated by Evangelisation Brisbane (then known as Faith & Life from where CMPC operates) that are designed for children and young people during school holidays were made available to these groups.  The grants have since ceased but the resources and programs provided were proved to be beneficial long term.  From 2013 onwards, Evangelisation Brisbane, through CMPC, continue to keep the ethnic communities up to date with all matters concerning children and young people.

Pastoral care of pilgrims and of places of pilgrimage within the diocese

Marian Valley, Canungra – The Marian Valley Shrine of Our Lady Help of Christians in Canungra, about 90 kilometres south of Brisbane, is a favourite retreat and place of pilgrimage of Catholic ethnic communities in Brisbane.  Many communities have built their own shrines over the years on finding that the Marian Valley surrounds provide the space and atmosphere that suit their particular cultural faith expressions which are quite different from the Anglo-Celtic influence in mainstream churches.  In addition to the regular schedule of Mass, reconciliation, Eucharistic adoration and procession, rosary, devotions, reflection and retreats, the Marian Valley calendar runs an active schedule of special feasts including annual pilgrimages of ethnic communities.  Many of these special feasts are not celebrated in mainstream parishes.

[Derived from 2018 Quinqennial Report covering activities in the last 7 years.]


[1] Australian Bureau of Statistics 2017, Cultural Diversity: Who Are We Now, accessed 26 October 2018, <>.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Stephen Reid 2017, Multicultural Church and Society in Australia: Make up and Composition, National Centre for Pastoral Research, accessed 26 October 2018 <>

[4] Refugee Council of Australia, Department of Immigration and Border Protection’s Annual Report 2015-16, accessed 30 October 2018, <>

[5] Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) Annual Report 2017 – 2018, accessed 30 October, <>

[6] Philip Hughes, Pointers, September 2017.

[7] Tourism Research Australia, accessed 31 October 2018 <>

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