BERLIN (ChurchMilitant.com) - In a historic first Thursday, a coalition of Jews, Christians and Muslims laid the foundation stone of a 47-million-euro interfaith shrine on the ruins of the 12th century St. Peter's Catholic Church in Berlin.
Hailed by the Vatican as a "house of prayer bringing the three world religions together under one roof," but slammed by faithful Catholics as "gnostic" and "syncretistic," the House of One anticipates Pope Francis' own pet project of an Abrahamic House.
The federal and state governments are pouring 30 million euro of taxpayer cash into the edifice, besides financing several staff positions including a social media team. Private donors are supplementing the remaining costs.
However, none of the revenue from Germany's church tax will go into building the House of One, the organizers clarified.
The Berlin archdiocese is involved in the project. "The archbishop of Berlin is not a sponsor but is linked to the project. Archbishop Heiner Koch is a member of the foundation's board of trustees," the Catholic Saint Hedwig Centre announced.
"We consider ourselves very lucky to have our Catholic brothers and sisters from Berlin archdiocese and Archbishop Heiner Koch on our side," House of One organizers tweeted during the inauguration.
L'Osservatore Romano, the pope's official newspaper, praised the project as an "innovative project that creates a common space for the three great, monotheistic religions."
Former German president (2010–2012) Christian Wulff urged critics of the House of One to read Pope Francis' recent encyclical Fratelli Tutti.
"I think it is very helpful for the concept of the 'House of One' — especially the pope's advice that God loves all people regardless of their religious affiliation," Wulff said.
Archbishop Koch, known for his support of homosexual relationships, told Catholic critics the interfaith project would "enable a dialogue process that does not exclude the intellectually critical" and would also include nonreligious people.
In comments to Church Militant, renowned Islamic historian Robert Spencer warned that the "deceptive project is actually an example of Islamic proselytizing," and "will not lead to any good outcome."
Spencer cited Muslim Brotherhood theorist Sayyid Qutb as saying: "The chasm between Islam and jahiliyyah [society of unbelievers] is great, and a bridge is not to be built across it so that the people on the two sides may mix with each other, but only so that the people of jahiliyyah may come over to Islam."
"Dialogue, in other words, is a means of dawah, Islamic proselytizing, not a genuine discussion or exchange. The proclamation that we all believe in the same God is a prelude to the appeal to accept Muhammad as a prophet and the Qur'an as a holy book," Spencer warned.
Spencer, author of over 21 books on Islam and the Middle East, elaborated:
If experience of "interfaith dialogue" is any guide, it will be resolved by the Christians toning down proclamation of the distinctive aspects of their faith to avoid offending the Muslims. This will make their proclamation closer to Islam, as all will be left will be a declaration of monotheism and little else, and this will be viewed by the Muslims as a victory of their proselytizing and sign of the submission of the Christians required in Qur'an 9:29.
Nothing will be said of Muslim persecution of Christians. It won't save a single Christian from persecution or a single church from being destroyed. This interfaith "temple" will make the Jews and Christians feel good about their openness and generosity, and the Muslims think they're making progress in proselytizing. It will fuel all the worst impulses in Islam for supremacism and the superseding of Judaism and Christianity.
A wooden model of the piazza has already been erected on the site and "multifaith meditations" are already being held in this provisional edifice as a marketing tool for donations.
The shrine is being built on the Petriplatz in Berlin's oldest district of Cölln on the Spree Island on the site of the bombed-out St. Peter's Church, which was torn down in 1964 after it suffered severe damage during World War II.
The ancient Catholic Church is mentioned in a document dating back to 1285 and was converted into a Protestant church after the Reformation.
While Germany's liberal Lutheran church has supported the project with no criticism from its flock, the Jewish and Muslim collaborators of the interfaith shrine "are perceived as outsiders within their own religious communities," Deutsche Welle (DW) media reported.
The liberal Abraham Geiger Kolleg rabbinical seminary at the University of Potsdam and the Forum für interkulturellen Dialog — part of the controversial Gülen Islamic sect — are the main representatives of Judaism and Islam.
However, most observant Jews reject the progressive rabbinical seminary and many Turkish Muslims (who form a significant part of Germany's Muslim community) reject the Gülen sect.
German daily Berliner Zeitung dismissed the initiative as the "illusion of a dialogue between the religions."
Pope Francis is promoting the construction of the Abrahamic House in the United Arab Emirates, which bundles together a mosque orientated toward Mecca, a church with its altar facing east, and a synagogue with its podium and Torah facing Jerusalem.
The decision to build the complex was a result of Pope Francis' Abu Dhabi meeting with the Grand Imam al-Tayyeb (Sunni Islam's top religious leader) in February 2019.