Catholics, Muslims share experiences at St. Joseph the Worker

| January 27, 2017 | 2 Comments

Sadia Tarannum, right, of the Northwest Islamic Community Center in Plymouth, talks with parishioners at St. Joseph the Worker in Maple Grove, including Ann O’Connor, left, wife of Deacon Kevin O’Connor, who gave a presentation at the start of a Jan. 26 event, Muslim-Christian Conversation. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

A group of 21 Muslim men and women walked into a meeting room at St. Joseph the Worker Jan. 26 and passed by an array of treats and snacks.

The food was a sign that the parish was rolling out the welcome mat. It was the first time the Maple Grove parish’s Muslim neighbors had ever set foot on parish grounds. They joined with about 70 parishioners to learn about each other’s faith and build relationships.

“We’re very excited because there’s just been so much negative [sentiment] in the media recently,” said Roxanne Smith, a St. Joseph staffer who coordinates social justice efforts. “So, to have 91 people in the room tonight just delights us, because we know that we have so much more in common, and we wanted to focus on what we have in common in our faith traditions as opposed to the differences.”

The event was called Muslim-Christian Conversation, and it featured speakers from both the parish and the Northwest Islamic Community Center, plus a chance for participants to sit around tables and talk about their faith traditions and experiences. At least one Muslim sat at every table to give all parishioners a chance to hear their stories.

Zohaib Amjad, right, of the Northwest Islamic Community Center talks with Deacon Kevin O’Connor. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

“It warms my heart,” said Sadia Tarannum, a board member of the Northwest Islamic Community Center. “The doors are open, the hearts are open and everybody is willing to sit down and talk about each other’s similarities. … We celebrate our similarities when we come together, and embrace and respect each other’s differences. We do have traditional differences, and we learn to embrace those and respect those.”

Parishioner Katrina Carney, a sophomore at the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph majoring in peace studies, drove to Maple Grove for the event. She helped plan it and was glad to see it come to fruition.

“I was really excited for this because I’ve been waiting for it,” said Carney, who grew up with a close Muslim friend and who has been working for years for a Christan-Muslim dialogue event at her parish.

The idea stemmed from the parish’s attempt four years ago to build relationships with members of other faith traditions, including Muslims, Jews and Hindus, Smith said. It went well, but the focus was too broad.

“We really wanted to get in depth with each one of them, but better to do it one at a time,” Smith said. “And, with all of the crises that have been happening with the Muslims [around the world and in the U.S.], it seemed so important to all of us that this would be the first [group from a different faith tradition] that we would get into deeper relationship with.”

Smith described the response from the Northwest Islamic Community Center as “eager.” Muslims from the organization already had been engaging in dialogue with Christians of other denominations. This was the first time, however, that members had ever visited any Catholic church.

“I feel very good coming here because I keep hearing all the quotes from Pope Francis and all his letters and all the events that he does,” Tarannum said. “It touches my heart so much, everything that he does and says. I generally respect him, and I like him genuinely. That’s why I think I feel more [comfortable] coming to a Catholic church. I’m like, ‘I already know you guys.’”

This won’t be the last time the two faith groups get together, Smith noted. In the works for March is an event called Safe Harbor training, which addresses how to react when someone is being persecuted or harassed. Smith also wants members of her parish to visit the Islamic center during a similar dialogue event that takes place the third Friday of every month.

Beyond that?

“We talked about even just doing a potluck meal,” Smith said. “No formal agenda, just a get-together. Bring your families, we’ll bring our families and come together.”


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