Mark and Cori Ornelas went to dinner Saturday night with their five children to make friends. Muslim friends.

The couple from Tustin was among some 200 Catholics at Our Lady Queen of Angels Church in Newport Beach. They were joined by about 125 Muslims invited by the Catholic Diocese of Orange for the first such meal.

The overture by the diocese stemmed from a desire among Catholics to learn more about Muslims and as a continuation of the spirit of a 1965 Vatican declaration on relations with non-Christians, organizers said.

The document titled “Nostra Aetate,” a Latin phrase that translates to “In our Time,” pledged the modern Catholic Church’s commitment to inter-religious dialogue and expanded relations with people of other faiths.

Cori Ornelas, who belongs to the parish at St. Cecilia Catholic Church in Tustin and knows few Muslims, signed up for the event the same day she heard about it.

“I would like to know about their culture and belief and just would like to have a friendly conversation and meet some new people,” said Ornelas, 32, a homemaker. “I feel that there’s a lot of stereotyping.”

At the first opportunity before dinner, people began shaking hands and chatting.

Red cabbage, rice pilaf, chicken prepared by Catholic volunteers following strict Muslim dietary guidelines, French bread and cake were on the menu.

For Ilker Basaran (shown at left), a spokesman for the Irvine chapter of Global Cultural Connections, the meal symbolized an increased acceptance of Muslims by Catholics. The GCC is a largely Turkish group dedicated to fostering cultural understanding.

Leaders of both communities have met before, but the meal was designed to bring neighbors together.

“I think we don’t know Islam,” said Anthony Vultaggio, chairman of the diocese’s Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Affairs Commission. “It went to the national stage with this horrible act (the 9/11 attacks on the United States) in a sense not in a good light. In some way folks have asked (Muslims) to define themselves.”

Until Saturday night, Vultaggio (shown at right) had attended dinners hosted by GCC, which were part of a larger effort in the Muslim community after 9/11 to reach out to non-Muslims. On Saturday, the church reciprocated.

“To their credit (Muslims) have been stepping out,” said Vultaggio, 35, a financial consultant from Coto de Caza. “They’ve been doing the work, and we’ve been receptive to hearing. Now we’re saying we’re opening the door more.”


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