Australia, The Catholic Church in
AUSTRALIA, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN
An account of Australian developments invites a comparison with the United States. The two nations occupy roughly the same area, and each had its beginnings as a group of New World colonies of the British crown. Geographically and historically, however, there are great contrasts. The immensely fertile territory occupied by the United States promised a spectacular extension of European experience in the midst of familiar seasons and natural surroundings. The weathered and largely barren land mass of the Australian continent—geologically, the oldest of our planet—with flora and fauna which defied European expectations, promised a very different and challenging experience. Shortly before European settlement commenced in Australia, the American colonies had formed a federation, as they declared themselves independent of British rule. It would be more than a century before the Australian colonies formed a federation under the British crown as constitutional monarch. Although this arrangement gave Australia complete independence in the shaping of national life and policy, most Australians see the symbolic step of severing the nation's link with the British crown as inevitable. The details of appropriate constitutional arrangements for an Australian republic, however, are the subject of ongoing debate.
Another important difference affects directly the life of the Christian church. The American colonies were established by Christian communities wishing to safeguard their religious freedom. As a consequence, the American psyche has an enduring respect for religious institutions. The culture of white Australia had its origins at the time when the Enlightenment was bringing widespread disillusionment with religious traditions. As a consequence, religious concerns have never had a prominent place in the nation's psyche. As Australia's best known historian has put it, for most Australians the Christian faith has become "a whisper in the mind and a shy hope in the heart."
Ambiguous Beginnings. From ancient times it was taken for granted that a Great South Land must exist to balance the land masses of the northern hemisphere. Spanish and Portuguese mariners based in Peru came close to discovering the Australian continent in the 16th and 17th centuries. One of them, Pedro Fernandez de Quiros—who believed himself providentially destined to discover the elusive land for Christ and set out with the blessing of Pope Clement VIII—thought he had discovered the coast of the unknown continent when he reached a cluster of islands known today as Vanuatu. He named the cluster Austrialia del Espiritu Santo. In the 17th century seamen of the Dutch East India Company explored
the western coast of the continent, but were repelled by its barren, inhospitable character. In the end, it was the English navigator Captain James Cook who discovered the rich east coast of the continent, which he claimed for the British crown (Botany Bay, April 1770). White settlement of the Australian continent had a direct link with the Declaration of Independence of the American colonies. During the 18th century, the British government sent convicted felons to North America as cheap labor on the plantations of the colonies. When this was no longer possible, another destination had to be found if British prisons were not be become overcrowded. Captain Cook's discovery gave rise to a plan to establish a penal colony on the Australian east coast. On January 26, 1788, a fleet finally arrived in Port Jackson, the site of Sydney, Australia's largest city, to establish the new colony. About a thousand souls disembarked, of whom over 700 were prisoners of the crown.
Although lawbreakers formed by far the greater part of the convict group, under the draconian property laws of the time the majority were transported for crimes which today would be considered minor offences. Social and political reformers were a significant group, and of these the largest contingent came from Ireland. The statistics now available make clear the challenge faced by the church in ministering to the needs of Catholics transported to New South Wales, as the new colony was called. When transportation finally ended in 1853, a total of 168,000 convicts had been transported to Australia. Of these, about 40,000 had been sent directly from Ireland. Of those sent from England it is estimated that about 8,000 were Irish born and probably a similar number were of Irish descent. Between 1795 and 1804 nearly 6,000 Irishmen were transported to New South Wales, many of them persons of ability and education who had been involved in the Irish struggle for independence. During the period of transportation, the number of free settlers who came to Australia was roughly the equivalent of the number transported as convicts.
Arrival of the First Catholic Priests. The religious welfare of the convicts was overlooked in the first official instructions prepared for the governor of the colony. Later he was directed "to enforce a due observance of religion." The religion to be observed, of course, was that of the Church of England; and nothing was done by the colonial authorities to provide for the religious needs of Catholics. Three Catholic priests were among the early convicts, convicted for alleged complicity in the 1898 rebellion. Although all three returned to Ireland some years later, one, Rev. James Dixon, was allowed for a time to exercise his ministry (1803–04). An uprising of 400 Irishmen in 1804, however, caused Governor Phillip to withdraw Dixon's authorization and salary. He remained in Sydney for four more years, ministering privately to Catholics, with several Protestants contributing to his support. Brought to Australia by the laity, the Catholic faith was kept alive by the laity, who, in 1816, took the initiative of petitioning the Holy See for the services of a priest in their midst.
The clergy who played an important part in the early history of the Australian Church were a colorful group. Many were dedicated missionaries from various European countries, drawn by the needs of a penal colony on the other side of the world. They also included a number of restless souls who were happy to leave behind them the constraints of the old world. Jeremiah O'Flynn, who had himself appointed prefect apostolic as a result of the New South Wales petition, was one of the latter. Although neither the colonial office nor the vicar apostolic of London endorsed his appointment, he set out for the colony at his own expense, hoping that proper authorization would follow. He arrived in November 1817. When it became clear to the governor that he had no official authorization, a warrant was issued for his arrest. He evaded the authorities for several months, eventually being deported in 1818. O'Flynn's escapade had an unexpected consequence. The matter of his deportation was raised in the House of Commons, and a Catholic mission in Australia was eventually authorized.
Canonical Establishment. The first canonical status of the Catholic Church on the Australian continent placed it under the jurisdiction of Dom. Edward Slater OSB, vicar apostolic of the Cape of Good Hope with jurisdiction over an immense territory including Madagascar, Mauritius, New Holland (as the Australian continent was still called) and a large portion of the Pacific Ocean. Two Irish priests volunteered their services and arrived in Sydney in May 1820: John Joseph Therry, who is remembered as the founding father of the church in many regions of New South Wales, and Phillip Conolly, who went to a second penal colony at Hobart in Van Dieman's Land (later renamed Tasmania, Australia's only island state).
Some years later, the affairs of the church were entrusted to an English Benedictine, William ullathorne, who arrived as vicar-general in 1833. This remarkable priest later became bishop of the English diocese of Birmingham, where he was John Henry newman's ordinary; he participated in the First Vatican Council, leaving in his correspondence a valuable source of information concerning its debates. Although only 27 years of age when he arrived in Sydney, Ullathorne provided vigorous leadership for the struggling Catholic community. He studied closely the social effects of the convict system, and during a visit to England campaigned brilliantly for its suppression. The Holy See accepted Ullathorne's recommendation that the Australian mission be separated from Mauritius. In May 1834, New Holland became a vicariate in its own right, and in September 1835 Ullathorne's friend and teacher at downside abbey, John Bede polding OSB arrived at Australia's first bishop.
In 1841, when convict transportation to eastern Australia officially ended, the total population was 211,000 of whom 40,000 were Catholics. There were 15 churches, several chapels, 31 schools, 24 priests and a community of nuns. In 1842 two new sees (Hobart in Tasmania and Adelaide in South Australia) were established and Dr. Polding became an archbishop. Despite unpromising beginnings, the Australian colonies had evolved a relatively prosperous society relying heavily upon the wool industry. The character and bearing of its people surprised and impressed visitors from overseas. In the 1850s, shortly
after the close of the convict era, major discoveries of gold attracted large numbers of immigrants, and within a decade the white population trebled. Between 1841 and 1891, the Catholic population increased from 40,000 to 713,000.
Before the federation of the various colonies in 1901, dioceses were established in their various capitals, and by the end of the 19th century most had become archdioceses with suffragan dioceses (Adelaide established in 1842, an archdiocese in 1887; Hobart established in 1842, an archdiocese in 1887; Perth established in 1845, an archdiocese in 1913; Melbourne established in 1847, an archdiocese in 1874; Brisbane established in 1859, an archdiocese in 1887). An Apostolic Delegation representing the Holy See was established in 1914, and an Apostolic Nunciature was established in 1973. There were six synods of Australian bishops—two provincial synods, Sydney (1844) and Melbourne (1859), and four plenary synods held in Sydney (1885, 1895, 1905, 1937). On the occasion of visits to Australia by Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II, Australia has hosted consultations of bishops
of the region. Australian bishops participated in the Synod of the Church in Oceania, held in Rome in 1999. In 1928 the 29th International Eucharistic Congress was held in Sydney.
Influences Shaping a Local Church. Since the vast majority of Catholics in the Australian colonies were of Irish descent, it was inevitable that the Irish connection should prove an important factor in the development of the Catholic Church. Australia's first bishop had other ideas, however. John Bede Polding was a remarkable pioneering bishop. Usually traveling on horseback, sometimes undertaking precarious sea journeys along the treacherous coastline, Polding undertook heroic missionary journeys caring for his flock across the length and breadth of the continent. In his pastoral letters he gave expression to a rich theological vision and expressed farsighted hopes for his new land, stressing themes uncommon in 19th century Catholicism such as the domestic "church" of the family and frequent reception of the sacraments. Whenever he could, he met ships bringing convicts to Sydney, ministering personally to their needs and championing their interests. Called before a Royal Commission inquiring into the tragic situation of indigenous Australians, Polding affirmed in memorable terms their human dignity and rights, and condemned the injustices to which they were being subjected. Formed in the Benedictine tradition, so important in the history of the English Church, this idealist envisaged a future for the Australian Church nurtured by the monastic tradition. He worked to foster a Benedictine community associated with his cathedral church in Sydney and with the early developments of the local church. He became the founder of an Australian institute of religious sisters in the Benedictine tradition which has made an important contribution to the history of Australian Catholicism.
Inevitably, as the population of the colonies expanded rapidly and the majority of the clergy who ministered to them came from Ireland, the march of history left Polding's
Benedictine dream behind. Polding's successor as archbishop of Sydney, Roger Bede Vaughan, also an English Benedictine, recognized the signs of the times and made plans for the formation of a local clergy.
The Irish Church, which was to prove so influential in the formation of the Australian Church, was itself undergoing a transformation under the leadership of Paul Cardinal Cullen. A former rector of the Irish College in Rome, Cullen became a trusted advisor to the Holy See, and one of the most influential figures in the English speaking world of 19th century Catholicism. Cullen's leadership—he eventually became the cardinal archbishop of Dublin—put a strong Counter-Reformation stamp on the Irish Church as it emerged from centuries of oppression and persecution. Several of Cullen's kinsmen and proteges were appointed bishops in Australia and New Zealand, the most important of whom was Patrick Francis moran, who succeeded Vaughan as archbishop of Sydney (1884–1911) and was to become Australia's first cardinal.
Sectarian discrimination was very real in colonial Australia, and it was inevitable that Catholic awareness should be colored by the struggles of the Irish people. As a derivative of Paul Cullen's Irish Church, the Australian Church came to share in the strengths and weaknesses of its Irish counterpart—triumphalistic in mood, with the shamrock and the harp much in evidence at the opening of its ever increasing numbers of churches and presbyteries. At least one Australian bishop, however, was unhappy with the prevailing mood. Robert Dunne, an Irishman like his fellow bishops, succeeded James O'Quinn, a protege of Cardinal Cullen, as bishop of Brisbane (1882-1917, appointed archbishop in 1887). The church, Dunne declared, should be building up families and community, not erecting impressive churches and presbyteries; it should be finding common cause with Protestant neighbors to build a healthy nation, rather than adopting the confronting and intolerant stance that was developing. The later situation of the Australian Church would probably have been very different if Dunne had been able to persuade his fellow bishops to his views.
Penal and Social Reform. The life of the Australian Church has been influenced by the developments in the country's cultural and political life. Mention has already been made of the impressive stand taken by Australia's first bishop on behalf of the indigenous population. Like Ullathorne, his predecessor in Sydney, and Bishop Wilson, his suffragan in Hobart, Polding also concerned himself with the reform of the penal system. With the increase in population brought by the gold rushes, Australian bishops concerned themselves with immigration, some of them setting up schemes of sponsorship which were not always appreciated in the sectarian climate of the times—Bishop Quinn of Brisbane was accused of trying to transform Queensland into "Quinn's land." Caroline Chisholm, a Catholic laywoman, did much to assist migrant women who were easily victimized upon their arrival in colonies. Her work has been commemorated by the printing of her portrait on Australian currency. The men and women of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, in parish conferences throughout the nation, have come to constitute by far the largest organisation extending charity to the needy of Australian society.
Church and Politics. With the majority of Catholics belonging to the working class, and often discriminated against by an unfriendly establishment, it is not surprising that Catholics were prominent in the struggle for social justice in Australian political life. Cardinal Moran gave his encouragement to the foundation of the Australian Labour Party (ALP), initiating an association which has often been significant in Australian politics. When the Australian colonies were entering into federation as a single nation governed by a national House of Representatives and a Senate house of review, controversy broke out when it was learned that the possibility of Cardinal Moran's standing as a candidate for the senate was being considered.
During the First World War, Daniel mannix, the charismatic leader and orator who had come some years before as coadjutor to the archbishop of Melbourne (he was ordinary 1917–1963, dying at the age of 99) became a national figure when he campaigned against a referendum promoted by Australia's wartime prime minister, which would have opened the way to the conscription of Australians for the European conflict. The fact that the proposal was twice rejected by the majority of citizens was due in no small measure to the efforts of Archbishop Mannix—efforts, he made clear, which he undertook, not as a Catholic bishop, but as a concerned citizen.
Catholic Action. Under the leadership of Mannix, Melbourne was to become an important center of Catholic Action initiatives, modelled on the Jocist Movement in Europe. Many thousands of Australian Catholics joined the Young Christian Workers, the National Catholic Girls Movement, the Young Christian Students and the National Catholic Rural Movement. Archbishop Mannix encouraged talented young Catholics to involve themselves in the intellectual and political life of the nation, setting the stage for one of the most dramatic developments in Australian church-state relations. The vigor and successes of Catholic Action organizations led to the setting up of the National Secretariate of Catholic Action (NSCA) under the direction of a gifted young Melbourne lawyer, B.A. Santamaria. One of the most widely known activities of the NSCA was the publication of social justice statements authorized by the bishops of Australia. These annual statements applied the principles of papal social encyclicals to current challenges faced by Australian society. Inaugurated in 1940, the series ended in 1962 with a pastoral letter of the hierarchy concerning the recently convened Second Vatican Council.
Church and Communism. As the Cold War developed in the aftermath of World War II, the NSCA became involved in initiatives to counter the influence of the Communist party. The war had provided a climate in which every major industrial union in Australia except one was controlled by communists or was in the process of coming under their control. The NSCA organized groups of concerned citizens, mainly Catholics, who worked in Australian cities to counter communist infiltration tactics. The organization became known as The Movement. It cooperated with the Australian Labour Party with considerable success between 1948 and 1953. But its growing influence was seen as a threat by elements of the leadership of the ALP, and a split developed within the old party, leading to the formation of a breakaway Democratic Labour Party. As a consequence, the ALP was denied the possibility of office for several successive elections. Catholics found themselves deeply divided by the issue. There was a division of opinion among Australia's Catholic bishops as to the appropriateness of the strategies of The Movement as a form of Catholic Action. A ruling of the Holy See was sought. As a result a restructuring took place. Official church groups were given exclusively to the promotion of adult education under the direction of the local bishop. To carry on the fight against communism in the political sphere, those involved created an independent National Civic Council in 1957.
Catholic Education. Perhaps the most significant initiative of the Australian Church was its role in establishing a comprehensive system of elementary and high school education. By the 1930s it had virtually achieved its goal of providing a Catholic school for every Catholic child. This remarkable effort, which was to leave its mark on the ethos of the Catholic community, was the outcome of a complex history. Education began in the Australian colonies as a makeshift system of schools, largely administered by the churches. The government provided grants of land and financial assistance for the construction of buildings and teacher salaries. It was an uneven system with many shortcomings. During the decade from 1870 to 1880 the governments of the colonies assumed more direct control of public education. It was unfortunate that the architects of state educational programs were strongly influenced by the tendencies of Enlightenment liberalism. "Free, compulsory and secular education" became the avowed goal of the new state systems.
The Catholic bishops saw this development as constituting a danger to Catholic youth. Against all odds, they mobilized the Catholic community to build a separate school system without any help from public funds. Catholics shouldered the burden; by the 1930s it was normal for every Catholic parish to have its own primary school, and the number of secondary schools was increasing rapidly. Religious orders took up the cause and made a truly heroic contribution. Between 1870 and 1890 ten more religious orders entered the Australian Catholic educational system. By the mid-20th century their membership was predominantly Australian by birth.
After the Second World War, however, an increase in the birth rate, a huge influx of Catholic migrants from Europe, and the steady increase in numbers seeking higher education, confronted the Catholic education system with a crisis of survival. Catholic protests at the injustice of their taxes being used to maintain the public system while they financed their own independent system began to be heard, as old sectarian prejudices diminished. Political realism recognized that the collapse of the Catholic system would constitute national disaster, and the government began to give direct assistance. In 1963 a national election made it clear that the Australian public was not opposed to so-called "state aid" to Catholic schools. Today, although the bulk of funds necessary to maintain the Catholic system comes from the government through a commission set up by the bishops, a significant segment of funding still comes from school fees and parochial revenues.
Until the recent past, the only institutes offering tertiary education established by the Catholic Church in Australia were seminaries for the education of the clergy (diocesan and regular), and colleges preparing religious and lay persons for work as teachers. Building upon preparations made by his predecessor Roger Vaughan, one of the first initiatives of Patrick Moran when he arrived from Ireland as archbishop of Sydney was the establishment, within his diocese, of St Patrick's College Manly (1885) for the education of local clergy. Dedicated in 1888, this seminary served the dioceses of the whole country until the 1920s, when the establishing of provincial seminaries began in all the mainland states of the commonwealth— Victoria in 1923, Queensland in 1941, South Australia and Western Australia in 1942. Priests from Irish seminaries continued coming to Australia after World War II, but by the mid-1960s, the vast majority of Australian priests were local-born and trained in the 40 ecclesiastical colleges and seminaries. Since the Second Vatican Council Catholic, colleges of theology have opened their doors to non-clerical students, and many hundreds of whom have gained degrees.
In 1991, the Australian Catholic University, an independent institution funded by the Australian government, was established through the amalgamation of four colleges of advanced education occupying eight campuses originally established as training colleges for teachers and nurses, in the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria. In 1992, Notre Dame University Australia, affiliated with the famous university of the same name in Indiana, was established in West Australia.
Religious Communities. Twelve congregations of Sisters were founded in Australia: six in the 19th century, and six in the 20th century. Blessed Mary mackillop, who founded the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart, was beatified in Sydney by Pope John Paul II (1995), the first Australian to be so honored. There were five institutes of Brothers. While the vast majority of Australian religious at that time were engaged in the education apostolate, women and men were also working in Australia's 80 Catholic hospitals, which made an important contribution to the life of the nation.
The Challenge of Renewal. The distinctive mood of the Australian derivative Counter-Reformation Church did not prepare Australian Catholics for the challenges of implementing Vatican II's program of renewal. At the time the council was convoked, the Australian Church, like that of most of the developed world, was in the midst of a period of building and expansion made possible by postwar prosperity. It inevitably proved difficult for the Australian Church to make the transition from the self-confident institutional emphasis which it had so long taken for granted to one reflecting the gospel call to discipleship and service. The internal cultural upheaval was further aggravated by external cultural dislocation arising from massive immigration and pervasive undercurrent of secularism in the wider society.
The period of institutional changes initiated by the Second Vatican Council coincided with the far-reaching demographic changes that were taking place in Australia. At the same time the fragile new-world culture of Australia began to be profoundly affected by the upheaval taking place in the contemporary Western world. Since World War II the Australian population has grown from 7.5 to over 18 million. Australian immigration has no parallel in relative terms in this period apart from the state of Israel. In 1981, one-fifth of the population had been born overseas, constituting with its offspring a significant segment of the population. Immigrants have come from the British Isles and northern Europe, and in increasing numbers from Mediterranean countries, from the Middle East and from Asia. In the 1980s, 3.6 percent of the population of Sydney were of Asian extraction, and the percentage continues to grow each year. With the influx of immigrants, Catholics have come to constitute the largest denomination in Australia.
The attitudes of ordinary Australians have helped to form a welcoming and relatively tolerant multicultural society. As this demographic change called for policy decisions, the Australian hierarchy set its face against the establishing of national parishes after the earlier U.S. model. The main burden of ministry for immigrant Catholics fell to a dedicated corps of migrant chaplains, most of them from overseas. If people from other cultural backgrounds have sometimes found the undemonstrative style of worship of Australian congregations discouraging, early evidence would seem to indicate that integration into the local church has been relatively successful.
The Challenge of Secularism. As a new world culture, Australia's way of life has been profoundly affected by the crisis through which the Western world is passing. Permissiveness and hedonism have made great inroads into the nation's traditional value system in the period since the Second Vatican Council. In 1901, almost all (98 percent) of Australians declared themselves to be Christians; in the 1991 census 12.9 percent described themselves as having no religion. Australia has been described as the most secularized country in the contemporary world. There is an innocence, however, to the secularity of Australians: sacralization is absent, not because it has been rejected, but because it was never present as a significant aspect of Australia's national psyche.
Liturgical Renewal. It was especially in the reform of liturgical worship that Catholics experienced the impact of the changes brought by the council. By and large, Australian parishes have been relatively successful in their efforts to renew liturgical life, producing a liturgy that combines broad participation and local self-expression with the dignity of the Church's great liturgical tradition. The nostalgia of older Catholics for the popular devotions which were so much a part of the culture of the Counter-Reformation may well indicate that the new liturgical forms have not yet succeeded in giving worshipers an effective access to the divine mystery in its transcendence. The increasing cultural and linguistic diversity of the Australian Church resulting from immigration continues to challenge efforts at creating cohesive liturgical celebrations, and integration of immigrants with older Catholic communities.
Pastoral Renewal. Vatican II has given dedicated Australian Catholics access to a far more inspiring life of Christian faith. A greater familiarity with the Scriptures and a liturgy that elicits a more active participation in the sacramental mysteries have fostered a number of grass-roots renewal movements that would have been out of place in the institutionalized Catholicism of yesteryear: parish faith sharing groups, the cursillo movement, marriage encounter, groups concerned with the study of the Scriptures and with issues of social justice, etc. Among these, Charismatic Renewal groups have proved a help to many Catholics who sensed the need to embark upon a more personalized faith journey. An increasing number of women have concerned themselves with the rights of women in society and in the church, and women are making many creative contributions to Church life. The Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, in which the baptized play a fundamental part in preparing candidates for reception into full communion with the Church, has come to be accepted as an important part of the life of the local community.
Increasing Lay Involvement. As in other parts of the Western world, the Australian Church has witnessed a dramatic decline in the number of clergy and religious in the wake of Vatican II. On the eve of the council, in 1963, there were 1463 candidates in Australian seminaries; in 1994 there were 287; in 2000 they number no more than a few dozen. The mean age of the clergy has increased by 25 years. Many parish communities are being deprived of the leadership which has so long been provided by the ordained and religious. While many of the clergy have recognized the need for more lay involvement and collaborative style of leadership, the hierarchical clerical mindset of the Church is still influential, even among some of the younger clergy. As reflective Catholics ask themselves who will lead their communities when ordained ministers are no longer available, it is being recalled that the Catholic Church was brought to Australia by the a pioneering laity. The laity will once again have to take up the task of responsibility for the growth of the Church.
One area where the laity has taken on greater responsibility is the field of Catholic education. As Australia enters the third Christian millennium very few religious remain on the teaching staff of Australian Catholic schools. Lay administration has become the norm. The Catholic education system faces a challenging future. Its establishment forged closely knit parish communities committed to the assumption that no sacrifice was too great in the cause of Catholic education. The number of Catholic children passing through church schools, however, has continued to diminish: 80 percent in 1950; 70 percent in 1965; 55 percent in the early 1980s. The pluralism of the nation's value systems makes it increasingly difficult to find effective ways of promoting the distinctive ethos for which the church schools came into existence.
The Church and Indigenous Australians. While the genius of Catholicism found an early expression in the championing of the dignity and rights of the indigenous people who inhabited the continent for tens of thousands of years before white colonization, until the recent past Catholics by and large shared in an outlook which turned a blind eye to their tragic history of oppression and exploitation. There is a growing appreciation of the profound accord that is possible between the wisdom of the traditional lore of Australia's aboriginal people and the truth of Christian faith. Speaking to indigenous Australians in Alice Springs in 1986, of the "dreaming" of their traditional mythologies, Pope John Paul II said: "For thousands of years you have lived in this land and fashioned a culture that endures to this day. And during all this time, the Spirit of God has been with you. Your 'Dreaming' which influences your lives so strongly that, no matter what happens, you remain forever people of your culture, is your own way of touching the mystery of God's Spirit in you and in creation."
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