Cardinal Finds Familiar Elements in Visit to Staten Island Mosque
By MARY ANN POUST
Mary DiBiase Blaich
from left to right are: Zurkani Vardar, president of the Center; Cardinal Dolan; Dr. Tahir Kukiqi, PhD, imam and vice president of the Center; Father Liam T. O'Doherty, O.S.A., pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel in Tompkinsville; Msgr. Peter Finn, pastor of Blessed Sacrament Church and co-vicar of Staten Island; Smet Caprec, a teacher in the Center’s high school; and imam Ferid Bedrolli.

Cardinal Dolan, who visited a Staten Island Islamic center last week, was energized by the welcome he got and impressed with the commitment to American values and opportunities that he saw among members of the Islamic community there.

They come to this country “cherishing freedom” just as other immigrants did before them, he said.

“They are like other immigrants. They are like our great-grandparents were,” the cardinal said. “They come here with a love for America.”

He spoke to CNY two days after his June 19 visit to the Albanian Islamic Cultural Center in the Tompkinsville section of Staten Island, where he met with Muslim leaders and toured the mosque and the Miraj Islamic School.

The cardinal was flattered, he said, when center officials told him that they modeled their multi-faceted program of worship, education, sports and social life after the Catholic parishes they had observed.

“It’s the center of their lives,” he said of the Islamic center, “like our parishes are for so many Catholics.”

The cardinal, accompanied by Catholic priests from local parishes, spent more than two hours at the center on his first visit to a mosque since becoming New York’s archbishop.

He asked questions about the Muslim faith as the imams showed him around the mosque, he met children and teachers in some of the classrooms at the Miraj school, had a lively chat with a second-grade girl and her mother and was surprised to learn that the center’s sports program is a member of Staten Island’s CYO league.

He even popped into the kitchen to greet staff members, to their surprise and delight, as they were preparing lunch for the 40 Muslim and Catholic clergy and laity who were there for the cardinal’s visit.

Addressing the luncheon, the cardinal thanked the Islamic community for the warm welcome he received and “for making me feel like a friend and a member of a family.”

In his talk, he also stressed the common elements of the Catholic and Muslim faiths as things “that bring us together.”

“Number one is the primacy of our faith,” he said. “You love God, we love God. And he is the same God.”

He also said that Catholics and Muslims in the United States share a mutual love of the country and of the religious freedom and cultural diversity that’s part of the national heritage.

Other shared values include “your love of marriage and family, your love of children and babies…and your care for those in need,” he said. He also stressed the Islamic community’s commitment to a religious education, saying, “Education without faith is missing something dramatic.”

The Albanian Center’s Imam Tahir Kukiqi, who also spoke, thanked God “that we are a country that welcomes everybody and, as you mentioned, your Eminence, only in America, and we want this example to be spread because we can do many more things when we eat together as brothers than when we stay against one another.”

Imam Ghulam Rasul of the predominately Pakistani Masjid al-Noor in the Concord section led a prayer.

Father Liam T. O’Doherty, O.S.A., pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel in Tompkinsville, was instrumental in organizing the cardinal’s visit, which began taking shape after a meeting the priest arranged in January with the Muslim leaders at the cardinal’s Manhattan office.

“I am very very pleased with the way things worked out and I’m confident that the cardinal was too,” Father O’Doherty said later, “and I know for a fact that the imams were pleased with it.

“It is (the imams’) hope that they and we Catholics here in the New York Archdiocese might be able to cooperate on more projects, especially having to do with peace,” he said, adding that the Islamic community of Staten Island decries terrorism that takes place in the name of Islam.

“They want to do as much as they can and cooperate with as many other people of faith as possible to promote peace,” he said.

With Father O’Doherty at the center were members of his parish council; other Catholics who attended were Staten Island’s co-vicars, Msgr. James Dorney, pastor of St. Peter’s parish, and Msgr. Peter Finn, pastor of Blessed Sacrament.

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