“It brings religions together and breaks all the barriers between the people, so it’s good.”
SCARBOROUGH----What better way to get to know someone than over a plate of dulma, biryani, or macaroni and cheese?
That was the idea behind the “Building Bridges Dinner,” which brought together generations of Catholic and Muslim families at St. Maximilian Kolbe Church in Scarborough on Sunday, February 26 (15 pictures below).
“It’s just a basic way to get to know your brothers and sisters,” said Elizabeth Campbell, co-chair of the parish’s Social Justice and Catholic Service Committee.
“I think one of the best ways to show support is sharing a meal because, as they say, sharing is caring,” said Abdullahi Ali, a native of Somalia, who assisted the parish in organizing the dinner. “I think dinner shows us a sense of family. That’s what families do. They sit together, share a meal, talk about their issues, and that is what this is about.”
More than 250 people attended the dinner, which was proposed more than a year ago by Monsignor Michael Henchal, pastor of St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish, St. John and Holy Cross Parish in South Portland, and St. Bartholomew Parish in Cape Elizabeth. Monsignor Henchal said the idea came to him after he heard a story on the radio about the anxiety and fear that many Americans have about Muslims arriving in this country.
“Then, it went on to say that only a tiny percentage of Americans know even a single Muslim. So there’s the problem, I said to myself. We don’t know each other. And I began to work with some folks here to hold a dinner to bring Muslims and Catholics together. When that happens, we begin to see each other as real people and not as stereotypes,” he said.
“There is this kind of fear in the hearts of people about the other, and by having them come over and talk to each other and then express their views freely, I think that will ease the tension a little bit,” said Walid Moumneh, originally from Lebanon, who helped in planning the event, along with his wife Zoe Sahloul, executive director of the New England Arab American Organization in Westbrook.
“It’s very important because it’s not only what you watch or hear about people,” Sahloul said. “It’s the best way to get together, over food, and then you’ll be making your own judgment. Are they really worthy of our trust?”
Members of both communities shared in preparing some of the main courses in the parish’s kitchen, while others brought in potluck dishes and desserts to share.
“We couldn’t understand each other through talking, but we could cook together, and we laughed a lot,” said Michelle Sirois, a parishioner.
“Me and my mom like to help other people,” said Jumana Al-Hanfy, age 19, who just arrived from Iraq a month ago and was assisting her mother and the other women in the kitchen.
Throughout the dinner, people asked questions, told stories, and shared words of welcome. Although there were some communication barriers, they were overcome with smiles and the assistance of those who spoke multiple languages.
Two hours after the dinner began, with plates cleared and even the dessert table bare, few had left, lingering to enjoy Middle Eastern music and the company of the new friends they had met.
“I love the community building aspect, the unifying part of all this in our broader Portland community, and a chance to meet new people,” said Mark Tuttle, a candidate for the permanent diaconate, who is serving at the parish.
“It brings religions together and breaks all the barriers between the people, so it’s good,” said Al-Hanfy. “It’s a very good idea. Thank you for this idea.”