The religious community saw a need for more interfaith activities before Sept. 11.
By D.A. WILKINSON
VINDICATOR RELIGION EDITOR
YOUNGSTOWN -- After the darkness of the terrorist attacks, an IDEA is coming to light.
The Mahoning Valley Association of Churches plans to create an Interfaith Dialogue and Education Alternative.
The magnitude of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks by Muslim extremists who declared a holy war on the United States contrasted with the public's scant knowledge of Islam.
While Mahoning Valley has a rich heritage of interfaith activities, the participants saw a need for more activities before the attacks.
Locally, interfaith activities have included the association's annual interfaith breakfast that is set for 7:30 a.m. Nov. 20 at the Maronite Center.
Other local programs are: Jewish-Christian dialogue, and the Jewish Community Relations Council's Multifaith Day that includes the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Bah & aacute;' & iacute; faiths. There is also a Jewish-African American dialogue and Martin Luther King Day event. But there's no comprehensive religious educational program available on a frequent basis.
Hasn't caught up: Though the nation's urban areas are accustomed to life with people from other cultures and religions, the Mahoning Valley hasn't caught up.
Elsie Dursi, the association's executive director and a Valley native, said that when she was growing up, people did not ask even about the differences in the Christian faith.
She plans to interview leaders of local faiths to launch the program.
"A significant part of our time in the coming year will be dedicated to establishing this. We'll ask 'What is it that you would like people to know about your faith. People who aren't of your faith -- what do they need to understand you, your kids, what you want for your family?' And 'What are you curious about your neighbor's faith?'"
IDEA will also ask members of different faiths what value they place on talking to people of other religions. One common value in talks, evangelism, will not be a part of the program, Dursi said. Still, there is plenty of common ground.
"The major religions have things in them about how you treat people, about your neighbor, and the stranger," said Dursi.
Those issues especially affect Jews, Christians and Muslims, the so-called "People of the Book."
Mostly for adults: Some of the local interfaith activities have included children, but most are aimed at adults.
"We have not in this community so far done much to help our youth get an understanding of each other's religions. It's not going to happen in the public schools because that's not their job," said Dursi.
She envisions a way young people can learn about other religions in the context of their own faith, such as their own Sunday school classes.
Details aren't set, but Dursi said those ways may include essay contests or research projects. She hopes to have the program up and running by this time next year.
The association in recent years has been dipping into its cash reserves. Dursi said she is confident that funding through grants can be obtained to launch the program.
Also, she expects a new group would be formed to run the interfaith program rather than having an association of Christian churches run it.
She would divide her time between them.
The first interfaith project is already planned that is aimed at networking instead of education.
The association is one of the sponsors of "911: A Time to Embrace," Dec. 4 and 5 at Oak Hill Renaissance Place that will focus on faith-based community initiatives. The others are the G.T. Community Empowerment Organization in Campbell, the Ohio Department of Job & amp; Family Services, St. John's Episcopal Church in Youngstown, Pathway Partners and Youngstown State University's Department of Social Work.
Among the goals are creating inclusive local community partnerships and expanding programs.