Finding common ground

Book club shows power of knowledge
BY luke eggleston / sun staff writer

Friday, Sept. 21 at sunset at the Baitul Ihsan Mosque, local Muslims celebrated the breaking of the fast of Ramadan. That particular Friday, however, the celebration offered a twist as roughly 10 parishioners from Christ Our Light Church in Pulaski and St. Anne’s in Mexico were there both as witnesses and comrades.

“It was wonderful,” Father Fred Daley said. “We were very graciously welcomed. It was very stimulating and it points out the power of coming together and getting to know one another.”

The event was the culmination of a program Father Daley initiated, which he believes helped forge common bonds between the members of the two faiths.

Father Daley is the administrator at Christ our Light while Father Sean O’Brien serves overseas in Afghanistan as a chaplain in the U.S. Navy. Father Daley has been floating throughout the diocese and serving wherever a priest is needed since his parish, St. Francis de Sales closed. His time at Christ our Light will be over Nov. 1 when Father O’Brien returns.

Over the summer, Christ Our Light offered a five-week seminar during which people read Islam: What Non-Muslims should know by John Kaltner.

“It was just very eye-opening for folks, very positive,” Father Daley said.

The readings revealed many of the commonalities shared by Christianity and Islam, such as the fact that Muslims venerate Mary. In addition, Muslims consider Jesus one of their most revered prophets.

Mary Lou Moriarty, a Christ Our Light parishioner who teaches at Jefferson Community College, was among those stunned upon learning about the commonalities Christianity and Islam share.

“The thing that amazed me was how many similarities there are, like the fact that we worship the same God,” said Moriarty. “I can’t figure out why so many wars have been fought over this when we worship the same God.”

Another parishioner, Ed Delaney, was perhaps predisposed to identifying with Muslims. The retired nuclear technician said that he is on good terms with an Islamic neighbor. Nevertheless, Delaney’s knowledge of his neighbor’s faith was limited before the book club series. Like Moriarty, he was surprised by the commonalities between Islam and Christianity.

“It certainly enlightened me about the likeness of the two religions,” Delaney said. “We were all derived from Abraham’s tree.”

It also changed his attitude regarding Muslims as a whole.

“I’ve changed my mind about what I see on television and what Muslims are like in reality,” said Delaney. “On television they’re relating religion to terrorism. These people are good. It’s just a small fraction of them who are terrorists.”

During the series, Father Daley invited an imam from New York City to come to Pulaski to teach the parishioners about Islam. He arrived with several representatives from the Baitul Ihsan Mosque. The event was promoted at churches, both Catholic and Protestant, throughout the area and roughly 200 people attended the event.

Following the lecture, Christ Our Light hosted a social for an hour and a half. Father Daley noted that this was the most significant portion of the event as it enabled both groups to interact.

“That broke down a lot of walls. It was probably the most powerful part of the whole meeting,” he said.

“He [the imam] explained that suicide bombers were breaking Muslim law and that Muhammad taught that war is only permissible in self defense,” Father Daley explained. “Many imams are speaking out against war but there’s no coverage of that in the media.”

The series on Islam was preceded by a seminar entitled “War and the Christian Conscience,” which dealt with Catholic perspectives on war.

“The idea [for the book club] flowed out of that,” Father Daley said.

Father Daley believes that a program such as this would benefit any parish in the Syracuse Diocese.

“I would hope that every Catholic parish would do this,” he said. “The fact that a small parish in the north could generate so much interest certainly indicates that there’s a high degree of interest.”

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