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Italian bishop tells priests not to let Muslims pray in churches


ROME (RNS) An Italian bishop has clashed with a pair of priests who want to invite Muslims to pray inside their churches in a bid to promote tolerance in a diocese in Tuscany.

“The deserved, necessary and respectful welcome of people who practice other faiths and religions does not mean offering them space for prayers inside churches designed for liturgy and the gathering of Christian communities,” Bishop Fausto Tardelli of Pistoia said in a statement reported on Saturday (March 19).

“They can very well find other spaces and places,” Tardelli said.

The bishop was responding to pledges by two local priests, the Rev. Massimo Biancalani and the Rev. Alessandro Carmignani, to welcome 18 Muslim refugees by giving them space to pray inside their churches.

But the two priests told Italian media they intend to defy the bishop and host the refugees in three parishes in the diocese, which is 25 miles northwest of Florence.

“What is the problem?” said Biancalani who runs the parish of Vicofaro. “If we want to give them a proper welcome and integration it makes no sense to make them pray in a cellar.

“Whoever wants to can pray inside the church, whoever does not want to can do it in another space. They don’t need much; the important thing is that they can face Mecca.”

The two priests contend they are responding to appeals by Pope Francis to help immigrants seeking support and they think praying together is a good way to enable their congregations to get to know the immigrants.

RELATED STORY: Pope says don’t turn backs on refugees

But the priests have drawn a bitter response from opponents and have even received menacing threats by telephone and on social media.

“Points of view can be discussed,” Carmignani told the newspaper La Nazione. “But the verbal threats that have been used are unspeakable.”

Francis has repeatedly urged the Catholic Church to do more to help the wave of refugees arriving in Europe from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries.

On Sunday the pope criticized those who fail to “take responsibility” for immigrants.

(Josephine McKenna writes from Rome for RNS)

About the author

Josephine McKenna

Josephine McKenna has more than 30 years' experience in print, broadcast and interactive media. Based in Rome since 2007, she covered the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and election of Pope Francis and canonizations of their predecessors. Now she covers all things Vatican for RNS.


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  • Go a head and let them pray in your church, then in a couple of months ask if the will allow the same type of prayer service in the mosque? Therein we will get a better feel of what tolerance means to either group.

  • Too much secularism, they said!
    Too many Atheists, they said!

    You don’t need Atheists to destroy religion. Religion does a very good job of making itself look awful.

  • The pope is sponsoring only two refugee families, despite an April 2015 article in Il Sole 24 Ore stating the Vatican’s assets – securities, commercial real estate and bank accounts – for all its departments and offices combined “by a conservative estimate” would be around 15-17 billion euro.

  • the bishop is right look back at “theChurch of the Holy Sepulchre” in jerusalem the priests have forgotten all this?

  • An ironic metaphor Daniel, being that an Arab Muslim is designated as the person in charge of the keys to that church because the various Christian denominations haven’t been able to get along there for centuries.

  • To truly understand this issue, it has to be placed in the context of current and historic European fears of an Islamic conquest. Those fears have been accentuated during the current refugee crisis. Churches have been turned into mosques in many places in the world in the past, often forcibly. The adaptive reuse of disused churches is continuing in Europe today, although now it’s a more peacable real estate process.
    In light of this history, it would be useful to know whether the local priests are proposing that Muslims be allowed to hold prayer services in the nave or main part of the church, or just that they be allowed to use the all-purpose room or something.

  • You assume that the offer will not be made. That may be true, but my experience is that I have prayed, with groups of Christians and interfaith groups in a variety of mosques around the world.

  • Well, Garson Abuita, for the sake of truth – historical, religious and economic truth – the issue of those keys is much, much more complex and intricate than it appears… It looks like some ad hoc guide put forward that motive in order to impress the tourists.
    Happy Easter.