Christian/Muslim group inspired by JustFaith Ministry works on finding similarities, not differences.Finding similarities instead of differences in order to support the wider community is the mission of a Christian/Muslim group that stemmed from a series of lectures facilitated by American Martyrs Church’s JustFaith Ministry.JustFaith Ministries offers programs and resources that sustain the faith community in their commitment to build a “more just and peaceful world.”The group came together to “in-flesh” the book “In the Spirit of St. Francis and the Sultan,” authored by George Dardess and Marvin L. Krier, as part of the JustFaith Series, said Father Alexei Smith, pastor of St. Andrew Russian-Greek Catholic Church in El Segundo and director of the archdiocesan Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.“During his encounter with Sultan Malik al-Kamil in the fifth crusade, Francis goes there with the idea of converting the sultan or dying as a martyr and actually comes away with a great appreciation for Islam and for the sultan as a fellow human being,” explained Father Smith during the Christian/Muslim group’s April 29 meeting hosted by Dr. Moira Foxe, senior minister of the Center for Spiritual Living in Redondo Beach, one of six Christians in the group. The group met for nine weeks earlier this year walking together through the steps to “sense the divine in one another,” and now they are “moving on” to outreach others based on the approach offered in the book “A Common Word: Muslims and Christians on Loving God and Neighbor.” “This [the group] is the other side of the story,” said group member Elena Meloni, a Catholic-converted-to-Islam founder of a Hawthorne-based nonprofit that serves Muslim victims of domestic violence. She was referring to recent events occurred in Boston that have re-ignited hate sentiments or skepticism toward the Muslim community in the country.The idea is to offer the format based on Dardess and Krier’s volume in other parishes throughout the archdiocese, said Father Smith.The group started planning the series last summer and is finished with the syllabus and structure, said American Martyrs parishioner Richard Scholtz, a JustFaith series graduate.Currently, the debate is centered on the outreach approach. Rather than focus solely on Muslim/Christian education, they are considering its involvement in existing programs in the South Bay area and probably develop more study groups, added Scholtz.“We want to bring greater understanding in our communities and branch out wider than that [because] as a whole community we can do much better than individually,” said Foxe, also a board member and past president of the South Coast Interfaith Council. “In that way, by working together and serving together, we follow each other over our activities, and that makes us interested in wanting to know more about the details about each faith. But it’s at the base level and sacred service that we come together and get to know each other as friends.”“I didn’t know you folks four months ago,” said Tony Fadale, the interfaith group facilitator. “But through camaraderie we’ve come to know each other and without that the outreach that we are going to do for the common good wouldn’t happen.”Among the group’s commitments is visiting each other’s institutions — “an enormous experience for our soul,” said Imam Ameen Omar, a former Catholic who has been involved in the Muslim community since 1976. Omar is currently a resident at Long Beach’s Masjid Al-Shareef Islamic Center, whose main priority is prison ministry. “Where we found injustice we want to peacefully bring another type of presence and our whole thrust is the compassionate way, the peaceful way,” added Foxe.“We stand with whoever is the voiceless and the most vulnerable in our community,” said Jane Affonso, a member of Trinity Lutheran Church in Manhattan Beach and of the South Coast Interfaith Council. The council has set immigration and human trafficking as its priorities, and is in the planning of education and outreach events, she said.Farrah Kahn, a Muslim educated in Catholic schools, shared how she is reaching to “a whole new generation who, hopefully, as they grow older will be equipped in dealing with each other.”Inspired by her own children ages 8 and 11, she founded an interfaith children’s educational and outreach organization in Irvine, where she resides.Her children asked questions such as why people kill each other and differences between faith-based groups. “When they hear the responses from their peers,” she said, “it’s a whole different dynamic. Interaction with other kids is at a totally different level, really unique. When discussing issues, they come up with solutions and their parents are educated at the same time.”On May 5 at 6:15 p.m. American Martyrs’ Social Justice and Outreach Commission will present Islam 101, with Fr. Alexei Smith and Milia Islam-Majeed, executive director of the South Coast Interfaith Council. Site: St. Kateri Rooms, 1400 Deegan Pl., Manhattan Beach. Information: Tony Fadale, (310) 542-9696.{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/0503/interfaith/{/gallery}