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By Juliana Freitag
The archbishop of Bologna, Italy is calling for the construction of a mosque in the city.
At a conference
last week organized by the local Muslim community, Abp. Matteo Maria Zuppi
, recently appointed to head the archdiocese, seized the opportunity to express his sympathy
towards the Muslim community by calling for a mosque to be built in Bologna.
He also asked for the accommodation of Muslim festivities in Italian schools. Quoting Cdl. Angelo Scola, archbishop of Milan — a cleric with similar sympathies
— Zuppi said, "I really think it's time for a mosque in Bologna. Some people think otherwise but they are wrong."
"I also wish Islamic celebrations to be welcomed in schools," he added, "as already requested by archbishop of Milan Angelo Scola."
Paraphrasing Pope Francis' controversial remarks
regarding Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and his stance on immigration, Zuppi added, "Those who say they stand for security usually create more problems. ... To build walls only creates the illusion of security. Walls are not equivalent to security."
Using another favorite metaphor among immigration-loving bishops, Zuppi also asked for "the construction of bridges between cultures — to love our communal house means to love it and leave it open to others, to integrate them."
He continued, "We shouldn't be carried away by hateful generalizations, like the comparison between Muslims and terrorists."
Zuppi's reflections are far distant from those of his predecessors. Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, previous
head of the Bologna archdiocese and founder of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and the Family, once warned the faithful to be wary
of the West's current integration project of Middle-Eastern, largely Muslim migrants. Under his guidance, the Bolognese Curia proposed a dialogue
in 2015 with the Muslim community regarding interpretations of the Koran that encourage terrorism.
The late Cdl. Giacomo Biffi, archbishop of Bologna before Caffarra, was a respected theologian known
for being "extremely politically incorrect," and some note that his prophecies
about Europe either returning to Christianity or surrendering to Islam were prescient for Italy today.
Zuppi's comments came in response
to the argument that Christian churches are not welcome in the Islamic world. "This should push us to work even harder to allow every believer to pray, and I am convinced that among all believers we can find that unique sense of belonging, that one God, which is named 'peace.'"
In contrast to Zuppi's enthusiasm, Virginio Merola, mayor of Bologna and member of the Italian Democratic Party, is expressing greater reserve. After years of aggressively pushing
for a mosque in the city, he backed down after public opposition, admitting he was "wrong about the mosque."
So are other members of the party, including vice president of Emilia-Romagna (the region to which Bologna serves as capital), who doesn't regard
a mosque as a priority, "especially because the Muslim Community has declared this isn't urgent."
The newspaper Corriere della Sera is speculating
that the politicians are concerned that starting this discussion might affect local elections in May, considering the public's strong hostility to the idea of a mosque.
Conservative politicians reacted
with caution to Abp. Zuppi's statements, claiming it's impossible to open new mosques in Italy without first establishing clear rules and a prior agreement between the Muslim community and the State, as well as requiring that all imams register. Several Muslim projects presented for regularization have already been rejected by the Democratic Party in Emilia-Romagna.
Alan Fabbri, from the Northern League, said that this is not the right historical moment to open mosques. "Zuppi should worry about the reconstruction of the churches under his Curia affected by the 2012 earthquake, before worrying about the places of worship of other religion," he remarked.
The Muslim community itself is responding with reservations. Yassine Lafram, representative for the Bolognese Muslim community, made it clear he isn't interested in discussing
the construction of a mosque before the upcoming elections to avoid the public backlash it would engender, and that their community is more preoccupied with proselytizing.
"The starting point for us is to form good Bolognese citizens of Muslim faith," Lafram explained. "We could consider the construction of a mosque in the future, if the conditions are right. From our part we make no presumptions."
On the other hand, Hassan Samid, representative of Young Muslims of Ferrara, spoke
warmly of the "interesting opening" from Zuppi, and used the occasion to ask for a mosque in the town of Ferrara, within the archdiocese of Bologna. When asked about the inclusion of Islamic celebrations in school, he replied, "This could be discussed further, but it might be a bit much. It'd be enough to recognize Muslims' right to be absent from school and work during the two main festivities of the Muslim Calendar."
Juliana Freitag is ChurchMilitant.com's Italian correspondent.
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