On a quiet sunny Saturday afternoon in the middle of April, in a church hall in Palo Alto, two groups of people got together to share lunch and learn more about each other, their cultures, and religion.
Food can be like that; it can bring “different” people together and unite them for an hour or a lifetime.
On April 23, at Our Lady of the Rosary Hospitality Center, the Diocese of San Jose hosted an Interfaith Luncheon between the members of the Catholic Church and members of Hatemi Masjid Mosque in Palo Alto. About 100 people attended the potluck gathering.
Richard Placone, a member of the Thomas Merton Society at Saint Thomas Aquinas Parish, of which Our Lady of the Rosary Church is part, organized the lunch.
“Food is a natural way to bring people together,” said Placone. “It crosses cultures.”
Representatives from the Diocese and the Mosque spoke to the attentive and friendly crowd and shared a little bit about each of their cultures.
“I am very pleased to be with you and have this opportunity,” said Bishop Patrick J. McGrath. “We have so many things in common. We both believe in one God.”
The Bishop said when he was a student studying in the seminary in Ireland he read Islam’s holy book – the Koran.
“I was fascinated by how many times Mary was mentioned in the Koran,” he said.
The Bishop did elaborate on current persistent anti-Muslim sentiment in the U.S.
“That is one sad moment in our country right now,” he said. “We don’t see them in that light. We, as Catholics, too have been stigmatized. This anti-Muslim movement is not American; not Christian. It is not who we are. Today at this moment we are getting to know each other and it is very hard to dislike someone when you get to know them. Respect their differences and get along.”
Two representatives from the Hatemi Masjid spoke to those assembled. Amin Saheb Huzefa Poonawala, the head of the Mosque, admitted he was speaking to a group of people in English for the first time since he arrived in the U.S. in 2000.
“I have great respect for every Christian community,” he said. “I think people are afraid when they see someone like me and that is sad. This should never happen.”
Also speaking from the Mosque was Zoaib Rangwala.
“This is a great opportunity to get to know each other,” he said. “We are very pleased to be here today.”
Rangwala described a little bit about his sect of Islam and his congregation, which totals about 400 people with 100 children.
“Our culture is about education,” he said. “Educating men and women. We are very into family and civics and respect for others. We are always patriotic within the community with which we reside in. I encourage you all to visit us and it will give us an opportunity to host an event in your honor.”
Rangwala also did not shy away from commenting about those terrorists who claim to be Muslim.
“We’re all Americans,” he said. “We live side-by-side. We live together. We are the true Muslims and not the ones who commit the acts of tremendous brutality and humanity. We condemn that.”
Placone admitted to the crowd he, too was disappointed in some of the political views in the U.S.
“There is a lot of antagonism going on at the national level,” he said. “This is not the America I remember or I grew up in. We are all Americans in this community. We are all children of God. We are all children of Allah.”