Traditional cuisine is served during the Syria Supper Club gathering in St. Paul Parish’s spiritual center in Princeton. Photo courtesy of Maggie Smith

Traditional cuisine is served during the Syria Supper Club gathering in St. Paul Parish’s spiritual center in Princeton. Photo courtesy of Maggie Smith

By Dubravka Kolumbic-Cortese | Correspondent

It was a night to conquer language barriers, cross the divide between religions and enjoy a night of food and fellowship.

“Syria has largely fallen off the front pages. The war is ongoing, the crisis is ongoing, but the world seems to have moved on,” Stephanie Peddicord, Center for FaithJustice president, told a crowd of about 50 during the “Breaking Bread, Building Bridges: A Lenten Event with Syria Supper Club.”

The dinner, sponsored by the nonprofit Center for FaithJustice and hosted March 18 in St. Paul Parish, Princeton, aimed to foster positive relations with Syrian refugees while raising funds to support their transition to a new home in a foreign land.

Peddicord pointed out that 5.3 million refugees have fled their war-torn homeland in search of asylum, some of whom have found a new home in the United States. However, it is not always an easy transition, she said, citing language barriers and bias.

The Syria Supper Club, Peddicord explained, “is designed to start to create relationships across lines of differences.”

One refugee, a mother of six, prepared a meal of traditional Syrian food, and she and her 19-year-old son served the group gathered in St. Paul’s spiritual center.

She and her family came to the United States in 2015, after living as refugees in Turkey for two-and-a-half years. Her husband, once a successful lawyer in Syria, now works as a driver to support his family. Many extended family members remain in Syria.

Her son, who knew no English when he arrived in the United States, is now a community college student and hopes to become a lawyer, like his father. The young man, who participated in a question-and-answer session with the group, said he felt like he has been setting down roots in America, which hasn’t always been easy. One of the most difficult aspects, he said, is the whispering and comments people make when they learn he is a Muslim from Syria.

“When they hear I am Syrian, they start talking about terrorism,” he said.

Translating for his mother, he said she hopes people realize, after attending the Supper Club events, that being Syrian doesn’t mean a person is a religious extremist.

Many supporters of the Center for FaithJustice, which is housed on the campus of St. Ann Parish, Lawrenceville, attended the event.

“Part of what we want to do is recognize that we are called to grow in our faith, even as adults,” said Msgr. Joseph Rosie, pastor of St. Paul Parish. “We hear a lot about the refugees and the war in Syria. It’s a very timely topic to focus our attention on.”

Claire Gmachl, a St. Paul parishioner and member of the parish Adult Faith Enrichment Group, was there to offer her support for the Syrian community. “It’s a chance to give people an opportunity to meet other people who are interested in social justice,” Gmachl said, “to enrich your faith through other cultures. And welcoming a stranger is part of our Lenten celebration.”

Peddicord agreed. “Pope Francis calls us to not just meet people, but to have meaningful experiences of encounter,” she said. The club, in which the Syrian hosts prepare and serve their traditional foods, is an “empowering way for them to bring their own culture here.”