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Italian Catholic Federation in Australia

Background and History

The “Federazione Cattolica Italiana (FCI)” or Italian Catholic Federation was formally established in 1960 in order “to be a lay force for the Scalabrini Fathers” and to be able to “give material and spiritual assistance to the Italian migrants”. The 50’s and 60’s were a time when Italian migration to Australia was of large proportion thus rendering the missionaries work extremely difficult. Fifty years on, the FCI is still operating throughout Australia albeit in a totally different world.

Modelled on the American experience, the movement was focused on assisting Italian migrants with their religious, social and cultural needs. Initially focusing on Melbourne, it gradually spread to all the eastern states of Australia. The Italian Catholic Federation owes its existence to the Scalabrini Fathers and in particular to Father Aldo Lorigiola who commenced the organisation in Melbourne.

In the sixties, there were no Italian groups in the parishes. The FCI fulfilled that void and provided these parishioners with a religious influence and a sense of belonging as an Italian community.

The FCI was the catalyst by which Italians from different parts of Italy were able to interact, enjoy each other’s company and celebrate their culture. By taking part in the FCI activities, many lasting friendships were established.

FCI members helped the Italian priests by taking communion to the sick and the elderly Italians in their parishes. They also drove the elderly to Mass, read in church and ministered communion on Sunday. Just like our past members, the FCI still offers support to any one in need and especially in times of illness, grief or difficulties.

Through the FCI, members have been united as “a family” and have been able to participate in and gain a better understanding of the Mass by having it celebrated in their own language. Members have also learnt of the Scalabrinian founder ‘Beato Giovanni Battista Scalabrini’ and of his spirituality. Basically, the FCI has followed the work of the ‘Azione Cattolica Italiana’ of Italy.

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Present Situation

The FCI is currently comprised of 19 branches or “Sezioni” throughout Australia and has over 800 members. There are 9 branches in Victoria, 7 branches in New South Wales and 3 branches in Queensland.

Both Victoria and New South Wales have a State Committee. There is a National Executive known as the Comitato Direttivo Centrale (CDC). Its main role is to coordinate and guide the activities of the FCI which are primarily agreed upon at the bi-annual “Congresso Nazionale” which is held in turn in the various States. The FCI is guided by a constitution and most branches, including the CDC, are incorporated.

The activities of the FCI are religious, social and community based. The main religious activity is the Mass in Italian where members can actively participate; this opportunity would otherwise not be available. Central to this, is the availability of the Scalabrinian priests assigned to the various branches. Unfortunately, not all branches are blessed with a spiritual leader. In some cases, other Italian speaking priests fulfil that role. Other religious activities include “retreats” which centre on faith education. Social activities fulfil two roles; to provide social and cultural interaction within the community and to fundraise for charitable and religious purposes. In any given year, donations from all branches can and have approached $100,000. Community based activities include “Care and Concern” groups, assisting and visiting the sick and assisting newly arrived immigrants of different nationalities and religions. Branches generally meet once a month to plan their activities and where possible, the Scalabrinian Father also attends. A religious discussion forms part of the meeting’s agenda.

The preamble to the constitution sets the philosophical bounds for its activities.

“The FCI is a lay group that, inspired by the Good News of Christ, seeks to grow with the times, promotes social justice and Christian values by being a voice on social, political and religious issues and through its leadership role within the Tialian community.

Tia has activies and offers a challenge to the community:
(i) which encourages the alaity to be involved in church structures;
(ii) by addressing the needs of those within the Italo-Austrlian community;
(iii) by responding to the needs of ethnic cummunities;
(iv) by being in solidarity with those suffering injustices;
(v) by promoting family values.”

The aims and objectives of the Federation are basically to carry out religious, charitable and social activities. The constitution states this as follows:

“The commitment of the FCI is to be of service and Christian witness within society and in particular within ehtnic communities by recognising areas of need and fostering their relgious, social and cultural aspirations.

The FCI fosters the spiritual needs of society and in particular promotes relgious activities within Christian ethnic communities. The members of the FCI may take an active part in pastoral programmes at parish, diocesan, national and international levels.
The social programmes of the FCI aim at developing at just and equitable society by:
• encouraging acceptance and respect for the individual thereby preserving human dignity;
• facilitation individual involvement in the life of the community, and access to community services;
• cooperating with organisations and institutions involved and interested in issues facing society.”

Wherever possible the FCI encourages all types of cultural activity.

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The Italian Catholic Federation operates at three levels National, State and Local.

At the national level, the National Executive (CDC) manages the affairs of the FCI. It is responsible for the implimentation of decisions made at the National Congress, it fosters the unity of the FCI and promotes and coordinates its activities. It is responsible for the proper management and running of the FCI.

The National Exective consists of: President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer, a representative from each State where there is a local branch and the National Chaplain, the Provincail Superior of the Scalabrini Fathers, who is an ex officio member.

The national executive is elected for a two year term at the AGM of the bi-anual congress.

At a State level, the State Committee bringes together all the brances of a particluar state. It coordinates and is responsible for the implementation of decisions made at both the state and national level. It also cooperates in initiatives taken at the Diocesan level.

The State Executive is elected for a two year period at the State Assemble which is a bi-annual forum held in the alternate year to the Nation Congress. The State Executive is responsible to the National Executive.

The local branch is formed ina particular locality and can encompass members from several parrishes. All Brnaches are responsible to the State Exective or the National Executive when there is no State Exective. The local exective is elected for a one year period.

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Motto, Banner and Patron Saint

The motto of the FCI is “IGNEM VENI MITTERE” - “I have come to bring fire.”

The emblem on the FCI banner contains the letters FPIA which stand for: F (Fede - Faith), P (Patria – Homeland), I (Italia) and A (Australia).

The Patron Saint of the FCI is St. Joseph the Worker.

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Challenges for the Federation

The greatest challenge facing the organisation is to determine what role it should play given the changing times and circumstances. In considering this question some of the issues it needs to consider are:
• the ageing membership;
• fewer Italian immigrants, hence a diminishing source of membership;
• changed circumstances for new arrivals and with different needs than in the past;
• changed Australian policy towards immigration with people of diverse cultures and religions finding their way to our shores;
• absence of the Scalabrinian Fathers in some branches;
• recruitment difficulty in general;
• difficulty in attracting the younger generation.

The FCI believes, that in spite of these challenges, it has an important role to play both within the Italian community and the community at large especially in faith education, caring for the spiritual needs, support for the aging Italian community and contributing to charitable and religious purposes. Social and cultural activities are also seen as important. However, in order to undertake these activities, it must attract new members from the community especially second and third generations Italians.

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