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Theme: Islam and Catholic Italy

January 18, 2007

Boston Globe: In Catholic Italy, Islam makes inroads

In this very Catholic country, there have always been other religions: a sprinkling of aldensian Protestants in the north, traces of Islam in Sicily, well-established but small Jewish neighborhoods in Rome, Venice, and other big cities.

But for the first time in centuries, a minority religion is set to become a major player in Italy’s future. Fueled largely by immigration from North Africa, the Middle East, and Albania, Islam is now the second-largest faith in what is still a nation that is 94 percent Catholic.

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”In no country in Europe has there been such a rapid growth,” said Piccardo, adding that the number of mosques and Islamic cultural centers has gone from 12 to 400 in the past 16 years. ”Italy is the bridge between Africa, the Middle East, and Europe that make for a particular kind of Islam here.”

AP: Muslim influx strikes chill into heart of Christendom

Just blocks from the elegant centre of Turin, once the aristocratic capital of Italy, lies a profoundly different world, one where the faithful turn toward Mecca to say their prayers.

When evening falls, the streets fill with men chatting in Arabic. They stream into a shabby courtyard where the balconies drip with laundry and into one of the Turin’s six Muslim prayer halls. Afterwards, they crowd into le Grand Maghreb cafe around the corner of the couscous.

By day, women with veiled heads comb the nearby market for bargains or drop into Halal Meats, where the butcher is an imam and the man behind the counter wears a crimson fez.

Until recently, Turin was known as the home of the House of Savoy, rulers of the Kingdom of Italy, and as the repository of the Shroud of Turin, one of the most revered relics in the Roman Catholic world.

Profoundly European, profoundly Catholic, this city in the shadow ofthe Alps now finds itself serving as Italy’s “laboratory” for immigration and for coexistence between two rival faiths.

Zenit: Bologna’s Cardinal Biffi Favors Catholic Immigration

Bologna’s Cardinal made use of paradox to explain to reporters why in his pastoral note, “St. Petronius’ City in the Third Millennium,” he singled out the immigration question as one of the “difficult challenges of our time.” He continued: “There is no right of invasion. Nothing impedes the Italian State from managing immigration in such a way as to safeguard its national identity.”

Cardinal Biffi explained his position: “The criteria to admit immigrants cannot be solely economic. There must also be serious concern for the nation’s own identity. Italy is not a desert or semi-inhabited land, without history, without an unmistakable cultural and spiritual shape, to be populated indiscriminately. In any case, it is necessary that those who want to be permanent residents among us, must be enabled and must be specifically requested to know better the traditions and identity of the peculiar humanity of which they wish to form a part.”

From this standpoint, Cardinal Biffi asks that the government make accurate calculations in regard to Muslims. “They have different food, different feast days, family law that is incompatible with ours, an idea of woman that is very distant from ours (to the extent of allowing, and practicing, polygamy). Above all, they have a rigorously fundamentalist view of public life, to the degree that the perfect identification of religion and faith forms part of their faith, including waiting prudently to proclaim it and make it prevail.”

Times of London: Muslims say fresco must be destroyed

Muslim leaders in Italy are demanding the removal or destruction of a priceless 15th century fresco in Bologna that they say offends Islam by showing the Prophet Muhammad being cast into the flames of Hell.

The row over The Last Judgment by Giovanni da Modena, in Bologna Cathedral, could threaten the already strained relations between the Roman Catholic Church and members of Italy’s Muslim community.

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Adel Smith, the head of the Union of Italian Muslims, appealed to the many thousands of Italian Muslim residents of Bologna to attend a rally outside the main mosque in Rome today.

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Signor Smith said that the problem had started in the Middle Ages with Dante, Italy’s national poet, who had placed Muhammad in the ninth circle of Hell in his Inferno. He demanded that the teaching of Dante be suspended in Italian schools in immigrant areas.

The Guardian: Muslim Wins Italian Court Ban on Crucifixes in Classroom

The ruling flies in the face of Italy’s conservative leaders, including the education minister, Letizia Moratti, who supports the crucifix in class as a way of valuing “Christian roots”. Roberto Maroni, a Labour minister and member of the rightwing Northern League, said yesterday: “This is outrageous. It is unacceptable that one judge should cancel out millennia of history.”

Many teachers, however, have hailed the ruling as a sign that the education system should be made truly secular.

The court case was brought by Adel Smith of the Union of the Muslims of Italy. Of a Scots family, Mr Smith converted to Islam in 1987. In public, he termed the crucifix a “small body on two wooden sticks”.

Chiesa: In Rome´s Main Mosque, One Imam Is Calling for Jihad

They´re downplaying it in the Vatican: “In the end, these are only the things being said in one Italian mosque. And giving too much importance to a local occurrence would risk compromising dialogue,” said Archbishop Michael L. Fitzgerald, the president of the pontifical commission concerned with Islamic relations.

But the mosque in question is that of Rome, the pope´s diocese – and it´s the largest mosque in Europe. Inaugurated in 1995, it is sponsored by the Italian Islamic Cultural Center and Arab governments, in particular that of Saudi Arabia. The imam who preaches the “khutba” there every Friday was sent by the theologians of the Al Azhar university in Cairo, the most authoritative university in the Muslim world. And the things said in the Rome mosque are no small matter. The sermon of June 6, 2003, culminated with the following invocations, interspersed with the “Amen”s of the congregation:

“O Allah, grant victory to the Islamic fighters in Palestine, Chechnya, and elsewhere in the world! O Allah, destroy the homes of the enemies of Islam! O Allah, help us to annihilate the enemies of Islam! O Allah, make firm everywhere the voice of the nation of Islam!”

John L. Allen: Deal between Capuchins, Muslims illustrates perils of reciprocity

In the latest twist, a controversial new deal struck between Muslims and the Capuchin Franciscans in Genoa would allow the mosque to be erected alongside an existing Capuchin monastery, thus offering the striking prospect of both a cross and a minaret soaring side-by-side on the neighborhood’s skyline.

It would be a marvelous sign of inter-religious brotherhood to some, of a perverse form of Western cultural suicide to others.

CWNews.com: Muslim-Catholic marriages on the rise in Italy

According to the Catholic charitable organization Caritas, the number of marriages between Italians and foreign natives living in Italy has risen tenfold in the past 15 years.

In 1991 there were 60,000 such “mixed marriages” registered in Italy; last year there were 600,000, Caritas reports.

Italian men preferred Filipino, Romanian, Peruvian, and Albanian women. In contrast, Italian women preferred Senegalese, Tunisians, and Moroccans. The more affluent northern section of Italy leads the way in mixed marriages.

About 10% of the mixed marriages involve a Muslim with a Catholic spouse. In the vast majority of such cases, the children are raised as Muslims. If the wife is Catholic, statistics show that she is likely to convert to Islam.

Given the tensions that mark Italian culture today, it is not surprising that these mixed marriages are fragile– although there too the figures show a geographical difference. The average Catholic-Muslim union lasts just 5 years in the northern city of Milan, and 13 years in southern Lecce.

The figures on mixed marriages were released just a day after Pope Benedict XVI released his annual statement for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees. In that statement the Pontiff underlined the need to support the families of migrants as they adjust to a new cultural surrounding.

CWNews.com: Retiring Italian bishop chides colleagues’ failure to confront Islam

An outspoken Italian prelate has used the last homily before his official retirement to complain that Church leaders have failed to “defend the Christian way of life.”

After 18 years at the head of the Como diocese, Bishop Alessandro Maggiolini is stepping down at the age of 76, to be replaced by Bishop Diego Coletti. At a farewell Mass the outgoing bishop said that Christians should be “known for upholding their faith, not for dialogue.” His comments were evidently aimed at proponents of immigration and inter-faith dialogue. The Como diocese is located in northern Italy, in a region noted for opposition to immigration.

Bishop Maggiolini has been known for his blunt speech on controversial issues, and especially for his skeptical view of immigration and relations with Islam. The AKI news service noted that in the past the bishop has said that approval of the pending Italian legislation recognizing same-sex unions would be “a prelude to marriage between men and horses,” and that “the doors of the nation cannot be opened” to unrestricted immigration.

See also:
Christian Science Monitor: A rising tide of Muslims in Italy puts pressure on Catholic culture
Chiesa: My Friend, Islam: The “Dialogue At All Costs” of Pope Wojtyla
Time Europe: Defender of the Faith: Bologna’s controversial Cardinal Biffi says Italy should favor Catholic over Muslim immigrants
Zenit: “Culture of Welcome” Urged for Immigrants
Joseph D’Hippolito: How Will Rome Face Mecca?
Claudio Holzner: Re-Birth of Islam in Italy: Between Indifference and Intolerance

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