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The debate over regional cooperation and government will seek some spiritual roots this weekend, as congregations from many faiths launch an effort designed to build community unity.

A Main Street procession and a two-hour kickoff event at the Canisius College Koessler Athletic Center will launch the "Region-Wide Conversation" program at 4:30 p.m. Sunday. The event, free and open to the public, will showcase an effort that already involves some 120 religious congregations of Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims and other faiths.

This is a good step toward breaking down the barriers that exist not only between faiths but between communities. City congregations will be paired with suburban congregations for a structured, five-step series of conversations beginning in February.

Local regionalism "guru" Kevin P. Gaughan, the Hamburg attorney who convened last year's Chautauqua Conference on Regionalism, hopes the effort will seek the spiritual underpinnings of regionalism. If residents can start viewing Western New York as one big neighborhood, rather than as a collection of locally defined ones, the push for political and economic cooperation stands to benefit.

It's an effort that deserves encouragement. The discussions should go a long way toward bridging divides of belief and geography simply by bringing participants together for an airing of views, similarities and differences.

The goal is to move different groups beyond mere tolerance, and toward understanding and respect. In an era when divisions often are more emphasized than shared humanity, that's an attempt worth trying.

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