Maronite church hosts first iftar for Lebanese Muslims
By Natasha Dado | Sunday, 08.05.2012, 08:30 PM

WARREN — During his historic visit to southeast Michigan in May, Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter Rai focused on spreading unity and love among Lebanese Christians and Muslims in the region through peaceful dialogue. 
Patriarch Rai, who is the head of the Maronite Catholic Church worldwide, has made the theme of his patriarchy that of communion and love. His trip received international media attention, and served as an example of peace and understanding to the entire world. 
Local Maronite Catholics embraced their patriarch's message of interfaith unity on July 26, when members of the community held a Ramadan dinner at the St. Sharbel Maronite Church here. 
The dinner is being hailed as the first of its kind, because while the Maronite community has hosted Ramadan dinners in the past, none have been held at a church. 
Imam Sayel Elkatat of Central Islamic Council of Dearborn Heights and Father George Shalhoub of St Marys Antiochian Orthodox Church of Livonia reciting the invocation at the iftar.
Muslim clergy who attended were granted a special room at the church to pray in. 
Organizers of the event went out of their way to ensure the Muslim community felt welcomed. The meat served during dinner was halal, and a chef from Dearborn was brought in to cater the food.  "The coordinators of this event really took extra steps to ensure the Muslim community was happy, comfortable and had a great experience," said Louis Ghafari, one of the coordinators. 
In addition to mailing invitations out to various mosques, the organizers, including Ghafari, went to the religious centers with clergy members from the Maronite church to personally invite religious leaders from the Muslim community . 
The coordinators sent invitations to religious institutions, social clubs, institutes and community members from the Lebanese Sunni, Shi'a and Druze communities in the area.    
The idea of hosting a Ramadan dinner emerged during Patriarch Rai's visit to the St. Sharbel Church, where he kicked off the first stop of his tour.  
A group of people from the Maronite community were discussing the success of the event at the church, and the positive reactions from people. It was then they decided it would be a good idea to host a Ramadan dinner there as the holy month was approaching. 
The dinner was an opportunity for the two communities to maintain strong ties and strengthen their relationship. Nearly 300 people attended the Iftar dinner; a majority of those who received invitations were Muslim Americans, because the event was held with a special emphasis on them. 
Speeches at the dinner centered around the same messages of peace and co-existence between Lebanese Americans of different religious denominations that Patriarch Rai had preached about on his trip.   
Imam Mohammad Mardini, chairman of the American Muslim Center of Dearborn, presented a rosary to a pastor from the Maronite Catholic church. 
The Master of Ceremonies for the event was Shaheen Bou-Maroun. 
Imam Sayel Al-Atat, chairman of the Central Islamic Council of America, and Father George Shalhoub, chairman of St. Mary's Basilica Orthodox Church, blessed the iftar dinner together.  
Ned Fawaz and Hajj Jamal Dakroub presented an appreciation plaque to the church. Lebanese Consul General to Detroit, Bilal Kabalan and Sheikh Mohamad Dbouk of the Islamic Center of America made remarks. 
Chor-Bishop Alfred Badawi, pastor of St. Sharbel Church also addressed the crowd. Sheikh Houssam Ahmad El-Boustani of the Instituto Futuro Consultant in Brazil led the crowd in prayer near the end of the ceremony. 
"Everyone was very happy and gracious about breaking bread together," said Badawi.  Both Ghafari and and Pastor Badawi say there will be similar gatherings in the future with the two communities. 
Imam Mohammad Mardini of the American Muslim Center in Dearborn, presents Chor-Bishop Alfred Badawi, pastor of St. Sharbel Church in Warren with a rosery at the Iftar as a symbol of friendship and appreciation. PHOTOS: Nafeh AbuNab

The event received positive feedback from the community. Ghafari says calls and emails applauding the organizers continued this week. 
Dan Bojalad of the St. Sharbel Church who also attended the dinner, said he enjoyed having dinner with his brothers and sisters from the Muslim community, and looks forward to the next occasion. 
Dianne Bartolomeo, an administrative assistant at St. Sharbel, says there's already been talk about the Muslim community planning to hold a similar event for the Maronite community during Christmas. 
Those who attended the event say there was lots of love and feelings of belonging between members of the two communities. "There was a true sense of friendship and love," said Bartolomeo.  
During his tour Patriarch Rai said there's a dire need for Lebanese people of different faiths, opinions and parties who have different concerns and aspirations, to meet as brothers, and one family at a dialogue table in order to build a better country and spread peace among everyone.
He also noted that Christians must represent Muslims especially in Western societies and show that Islam is a religion of love and peace, not a religion of war and greed, and Muslims should represent Christians and show Christianity is love and civilization and brotherhood in the East and in particular the Arab World. 
"We are all inspired by his (Patriarch Rai) message and we believe it," said Ghafari. 

By Natasha Dado

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