The Catholic Advocate Vol. 67, No. 7 July 18, 2018 Vol. 67 No.7 July 18, 2018 The community newspaper of the Archdiocese of Newark Interfaith leaders welcome Muslim community F ather Joseph D’Amico, pas- tor of Our Lady of the Lake in Verona, and a few of his parishioners attended a dinner last month to welcome some new neighbors. The recently-opened Verona Islamic Center, on the site of the former Congregation Beth Ahm synagogue, invited members of local Christian communities to iftar , a meal that breaks the fast during the holy month of Ramadan. The group of about 30 people included representatives from the First Congregational Church of Ve- rona, Holy Spirit Episcopal Church, First Presbyterian Church of Verona and congregants of the Islamic cen- ter, or mosque. Egyptian native Dr. Montaser Awad, a Verona resident for 20 years and professor at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, orga- nized the creation of the mosque and extended an invitation to the faith leaders. In a letter signed by clergy of the four faith communities, it stated they “extend a word of welcome, peace and inclusion to our new Muslim neighbors. With this message, we welcome you to our lovely township and look forward to being compan- ions of faith as we journey together in holiness.” After a brief introduction, the visitors were invited to a Muslim prayer service followed by a dinner celebration. “There was an incredible feast waiting for us,” Father D’Amico said. “Members of the Islamic center said they were excited to work and pray with us. The bottom line is that the Muslim community wants to be seen as prayer partners and co-wor- shipers.” The pastor also pointed out that in this recent political climate, the dinner provided an opportunity to come together and try to understand one another. “All of us sharing a meal at the mosque humanized the diversity in the United States,” Fa- ther D’Amico explained. “It is not often that we get to sit down and share a meal with our Muslim neigh- bors. It was a time of prayer, fellow- ship and comradery.” As a show of appreciation for the visit, guests received a fruit bas- ket handed to them by children from the mosque. “We are common believers in one God,” Father D’Amico said. “We are all children of Abraham and Sarah.” The similarities between the faiths were highlighted during the prayer service. “Our hosts gave us an English translation of the prayer and, to my surprise, it was related to the story of Zachariah and the birth of John the Baptist,” said Kathy Van Benschoten, a lifelong parishioner of Our Lady of the Lake. “I think the meeting went over well,” added Patrick Pontoriero, who’s been a parishioner of Our Lady of the Lake for more than 45 years. “They told us a little about their faith and we told them about ours.” Pontoriero and his wife, Dorin- da, have traveled to Turkey and Israel in the past and have “open feelings” toward the Muslim com- munity. “The people we met at the Islamic center were mostly profes- By Melissa McNally Editor WARRIOR IN FIGHT AGAINST ADDICTION Pages 2-3 SUPPORTING STUDENTS IN DIGITAL WORLD Page 6 APPOINTMENTS Page 111 AROUND THE ARCHDIOCESE Page 12 CLASSIFIEDS Page 14 Submitted photo Guests at the interfaith iftar dinner received gifts from the Verona Islamic Center. sional, like doctors that travel to different countries to work,” he said. “Everyone was very friendly and we left on a cordial note. All of us at the dinner intended to stay in touch.” Each year, the different reli- gious communities in Verona host an interfaith Thanksgiving service. This year, Our Lady of the Lake will host the event, and Father D’Amico hopes congregants of the mosque will join them. “We will be sure to include a prayer in Arabic.” Joann Barker, who has lived in Verona for years, said the din- ner opened her eyes to people in her own neighborhood. “I didn’t know so many Muslims lived in our town,” she said. “Before the Verona Islamic Center opened, they would travel to other towns and worship.” Barker has always been interest- ed in learning about other religions and went to the meeting with an open mind. “You don’t have to be- lieve in my religion as long as you have a belief system and are a good person. It was a lovely evening with pleasant conversation where we dis- cussed the town, faith and our lives.” Linda Rachel thought the dinner was “a pleasant surprise” and that the Muslim community, like the Christian communities, just wants a space to practice their faith. “It was enlightening to learn more about Islam,” Rachel said. “The Muslim community are peace- ful people, not some radical group. We are all one family.”