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» 04/29/2004
VATICAN - ISLAM
Vatican says no to churches used as mosques
by Bernardo Cervellera
An interview with Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialog

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Can a Christian church be used as a mosque by Muslims? This seems "problematic" to the Vatican. The polemic of using Cordoba's cathedral as a mosque has gathered the attention of top officials within the Roman curia. Yet unlike what was stated by Islamic representatives, no such formal request has been advanced to the Roman Catholic Church.   

AsiaNews, which follows the developments of Islam across the globe, interviewed Archbishop. Michael Fitzgerald, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialog. Archbishop Fitzgerald advises Cordoba's Muslim population to "accept history" without wanting to get back or "take revenge" on the Church, in the same way that Catholics do not try and reclaim buildings that have passed under Islamic rule and jurisdiction.

"The Holy Father visited the Ummayade Mosque in Damascus (once a Byzantine basilica), but did not ask to celebrate mass (there)." Spanish authorities, socialists and the united left wing coalition have suggested that the monument be shared in order to show a Catholic Church that is "open and dialogical".  Fitzgerald says these pro-Mosque supporters "have not the necessary theological sensitivity to understand the Church's position". In the future, governments will be able to provide places of worship (in airports, prisons, etc) for use by all religions, but not churches or mosques.

Below is the interview with Msgr. Fitzgerald.   

Your Excellency, Cordoba's Muslims say they've forwarded a request to the Vatican to use the city's Cathedral as a mosque. Is this true?

Last March our Council, together with the World Islamic Call Society, based in Lybia and Tripoli, organized talks on the formation of priests and imams. There were Spanish representatives in the Islamic delegation. During the convention, Mr. Escudero of Cordoba presented a request in Spanish, with a letter written by the mayor of Cordoba addressed to the head of the Muslim delegation, Dr. Sherif and mentioned it was their wish to share the use of the cathedral. 

But he (Sherif) did not take it into consideration. And we told Dr. Sherif that the issue was not one of the topics up for discussion at the convention. At the last session, when the convention's final statement was being discussed, Mr. Escudero again raised the Cordoba problem. And I responded saying that the use of the cathedral was the responsibility of the local church and bishop.

Is it possible for the cathedral to be used by Muslim faithful?

A general reflection is needed here: as there are monumental buildings in Cordoba, there are also others around the world which currently have a use different from that of the original –like the Hagia Sophia (Sta. Sophia) in Istanbul, now an Islamic museum, despite pressure put on by some Muslims to use it again as a Mosque. 

The Holy Father visited the Ummayade Mosque in Damascus, praying in front of the tomb of St. John the Baptist.  But did not ask to celebrate mass in the mosque." It is difficult to have Christians and Muslims mixing and sharing a common (civic and religious) life, despite being driven by wanting to go back in time or take some form of vengeance. One has to accept history and go forward.  

The shared use of a building by various Churches is problematic. There are spaces dedicated to this purpose, for example, in airports. But they are not churches nor mosques. They are interfaith spaces, capable of being used by Jews, Christians, Muslims and persons of other faiths alike. But this is based on a type of agreement to allow for their shared use. Yet this not the reality in Cordoba, where the building belongs to a specific community.  

But isn't it the case that when Muslims pray in a place it immediately becomes "Dar al –Islam", that is, the land of Islam and their property?

No, not always. Muslims have prayed even inside the Vatican, in this same building, but they do not lay claim to it. A street where a Muslim kneels down to pray does not become part of the Islamic community.

Government authorities in Cordoba suggest that the Church allow the Cathedral to be used also by Muslims -thus respecting, they say, "the building's universal value" and showing a Catholic Church which is "open and dialogical". What do you think?

Spain's government authorities are trying to please all sectors of society. But perhaps they have not the necessary theological sensitivity to understand the Church's position. We, too, want to live in peace with persons of other religions. However, we don't want to be pushed, manipulated and go against the very rules of our faith.

Governments have problems putting together different identities and social mixing and living together. In the future could there be a shared use of such buildings and structures?

Like I already said, currently there are places of worship in airports. There's also such a need in prisons. In many jails there are Muslims who want to pray and need a place in which they can do so. Wherever, there is a Christian chapel, it makes sense to keep using it as it is intended orginally and not as a common worship space. Wherever there is no space for worship, state authorities can also think of creating a shared space there.

Under which circumstances should a church not be used as a mosque?

If it is a Catholic chapel with the Blessed Sacrament inside, it should not be used to for prayer services of another religious tradition.

 In the Muslim case to use Cordoba's cathedral as a mosque, some view it as a further attempt to allow for the "Islamic Invasion" of Europe. What's your opinion on this matter?

There are some Muslims who view Europe in major decline and have the goal and aspiration to Islamicize Europe. For them Islam is the answer to a revival of religion. They are not the majority, but (certainly) they exist. On the other hand, there are some Muslims who simply want to live together with people of other faiths, in a way which is compatible with laws and traditions of the country in which they live. 

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See also
04/29/2004 spain - islam
Muslims seek to use Cathedral alongside Catholics
12/06/2006 VATICAN
Pope: In mosque I prayed to the one God for all mankind
04/29/2004 spain - islam
Muslims divided over request for use of Cathedral
04/29/2004 Spain - Islam
Cordoba's Mosque-Cathedral (profile)
09/22/2006 VATICAN – ISLAM
Pope to meet ambassadors from Muslim countries
europe - islam
Fr. Samir says Islamic "re-conquest" is possible thanks to Europe's loss of identity.
spain - islam
Muslims seek to use Cathedral alongside Catholics
Spain - Islam
Cordoba's Mosque-Cathedral (profile)
Islam
Christian churches converted to mosques (profile)

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