MAHONING VALLEY Event now gathers members of all faiths around the table

Local congregations see interfaith efforts moving to the one-on-one level.
BOARDMAN -- The event used to be called Taste of the Churches.
Now it's Taste of the Faiths.
Instead of having members of different churches meet over food, now people of different faiths can eat and also get to know one another as individuals.
The event also includes a benefit auction, to be held at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 21 at St. Charles Church.
The switch to an interfaith effort is one of the steps and ideas to improve local interfaith relations that came from a series of recent events involving two men from Niger.
Hassan Dan-Karami, a Muslim who became a Christian pastor, and Mahaman Alio, a Muslim, have met with Jews, Muslims and Christians during services, programs and informal settings since Friday.
Their visit was hosted locally by the Mahoning Valley Association of Churches, a Protestant organization, which also runs the "Taste of the Valley" events.
Deepening interfaith relations
At a press conference Tuesday at the Holiday Inn here, Elsie Dursi, MVAC's director, described avenues local faiths plan to explore to form deeper relations between faiths.
Dursi, and Bonnie Deutsch Burdman, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, agreed that the different faiths in the Valley have no problem in gathering for large, official programs.
But, said Burdman, "I think we can always do more."
New efforts should be aimed at opportunities for people of different faiths to have opportunities to talk one on one, said Dursi, who noted that will be more difficult than organizing large events.
Dursi said other steps that will be taken include:
UBetter communication between faiths between large events, such as Sept. 11 memorial events.
"We need to communicate with each other on a continuing basis," said Dursi. One option, she said, may be more use of e-mail.
UEncouraging high school and Youngstown State University students to take part in the MVAC's annual prayer breakfast in December.
UArrange to have people of different faiths sit together at functions expressly so they can meet.
Study group
Another option being considered is some type of interfaith study group.
Dursi said the goal is to have people have the opportunity to learn about each other in situations where they can sit and talk to a person of another faith at length.
The talks will have to take place in a respectful environment, Dursi added. Those involved in the recent programs believe that fear and parochialism are barriers to interfaith relationships.
Dursi said people, "Do not want to be put in a position where someone is telling you you're wrong."
True relationships
Dan-Karami said he had discovered the Valley has true interfaith relationships between Jews, Muslims and Christians.
"We will take this to our country and tell our people that American people are so wonderful," Dan-Karami said.
Alio noted Americans were quick to welcome them.
"I was impressed with the large possibilities of learning you have here, both religious education and general education," Alio added. "The way you learn shows us you have a long tradition of cooperation with people of other countries, races and religions."

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