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Monday, November 18, 2002

Readers use stories to explore faiths

By Michael Woyton
For the Poughkeepsie Journal

Kathy McLaughlin/Poughkeepsie Journal
Noreen Ahsan, 10, reads the story of Yunus and the whale as her 7-year-old sister, Leena, watches over her shoulder. Their brother, Shahzad, 14, displays an illustration. The three were part of the Dutchess Interfaith Council's "God's Stories for All" event Sunday at St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church in the city.
An experiment in bringing together people of several religions through storytelling took place Sunday at St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church in the City of Poughkeepsie.

Sponsored by the Dutchess Interfaith Council, ''God's Stories for All'' showcased stories as a bridge between different beliefs, Catherine Cwiakala, one of the organizers, said.

''An event like this helps us understand each other,'' she said.

''After 9/11, I was saddened to hear that the wrong people were blamed -- that a loving people were blamed. I wanted to do something that would bring people closer.''

Her original idea was to have teenagers reading to young children. ''But a lot of the adults, especially the grandparents, said, 'What about us?' '' Cwiakala said. ''So we decided to include stories for everyone.''

Some of the stories presented were based on ancient beliefs and some were written fairly recently. The Baha'i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Unitarian Universalist faiths were represented.

Marguerite Palmore read a tale called ''Old Turtle,'' written by Douglas Wood, which is a fable for all ages about the earth and its relationship to those who inhabit it.

''The story means to me,'' Palmore said, ''that, in spite of the diversity in the world, God eventually brings us together.''

Illustrating diversity

Palmore was assisted by Maggie Reilinge, 11, of Red Hook, who held up the book and showed the illustrations. Reilinge also participated in an interfaith story by Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso called ''God's Paintbrush.''

Attorney Aziz Ahsan manned a table in the book fair before he and his family took part in one of the readings.

Representing the Mid-Hudson Islamic Association, they told the story of Yunus and the whale, which was taken from the Koran. The title character has also been called Jonah.

Ahsan thought it was important to be a part of the afternoon ''because part of interfaith interaction is the contribution that many parts play in these kind of events.

''We are showing that Dutchess County has many things to offer,'' Ahsan said.

The afternoon wasn't just about storytelling. Children from Beulah Baptist Church sang and organ music was provided in the sanctuary by Tom Sheehan, 14, of Red Hook. Artwork from different religions lined the walls of the meeting hall.

Not all the readings were from mainstream religions. Kevin Bill, 13, of Wappinger Falls, read what he calls ''an elf-help book.''

''The story I'm doing is about a little elf who teaches you about how God is our friend even though bad things happen, like death or divorce,'' he said.

Cwiakala admits organizing the event was ''wonderful and very difficult at the same time.

''The only requirements we had were that the stories be about God from your own faith's traditions and that they teach that no one can be excluded from God's love,'' she said.

©Copyright 2002, Poughkeepsie Journal (NY)

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