As long as mosques are used as places of worship, Italy’s Muslims should have the right to build more mosques, said Monsignor Gianfranco Ravasi, Vatican Cultural Council chief. “If (the mosque) becomes something different, civil society has a right to intervene. Here we are talking about a western society that distinguishes between religious and political spheres, however the mosque carries out a charitable function which is a special quality so that religion also has a social function,” said Ravasi. He added that a mosque ought not to turn into a social center, because this leads to a loss of its intended function.
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New York Times
Senior Vatican cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran has thanked Muslims for brining religion back into the public life in Europe. “Muslims, having become a significant minority in Europe, were the ones who demanded space for God in society,” said Tauran. Vatican officials have long bemoaned the increasing absence of religion in secular Europe. Tauran echoed calls for inter-faith dialogue citing the rise of Islam being discussed, and Muslims becoming active in public life. “Inter-religious dialogue rallies all who are on the path to God or to the Absolute,” said Tauran.
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Comments by Pope Benedict XVI about the difficult of interfaith prompted both questions and praise. The pope cast doubt on the possibility of interfaith dialogue but called for increased discussion concerning the practical consequences of religious differences. He was quoted as saying in a letter to Marcello Pera, a center-right Italian politician: “intercultural dialogue which deepens the cultural consequences of basic religious ideas.”
Jewish and Muslim leaders cautiously praised the remarks. A spokesperson for the Italian Muslim group, UCOII, called for further clarification, saying: “dialogue among believers exists: We don’t hold a dialogue on our faiths… but we do on how we can coexist, each in our diversity.”
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New York Times
Over fifty leading Muslim and Catholic scholars and religious leaders from the Middle East, Europe, and America sat behind closed doors in a Vatican building, discussing issues about what divides, and can unite the two faiths. The landmark talks were a hopeful attempt to establish new, positive dialogue after a fall out two years ago concerning a speech by Pope Benedict. The scholars and clerics issued a 15-point declaration asserting a mutual love of God and care for one’s neighbor. Pope Benedict XVI urged Christians and Muslims to overcome their misunderstandings. Some of the topics discussed during the talks included issues on the freedom of religion, freedom of consciences, apostasy, and violence. Noted scholars Tariq Ramadan and Ingrid Mary Mattson praised the meetings, citing positive results that “exceeded” expectations.
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Upwards of 1,000 illegal immigrants are being moved from a holding center in Lampedusa to the Italian mainland, after 900 migrants reached the island in the past few days, and an overflow was cited as concern. Most of those moved included men, women, and children seeking asylum to the country. The Italian Interior Ministry said that the migrants received medical checks as initial identification checks were attempted to be made with the help of United Nations refugee and aid organizations, and cultural mediators. Lampedusa’s mayor said that the holding center was in near collapse and urged the Vatican to open the doors of its convents and seminaries to host some of the illegal migrants. The Vatican has not yet responded to the call at time of posting.
According to the Vatican, Islam has overtaken Roman Catholicism as the single biggest religious denomination in the world. Monsignor Vittorio Formenti, who compiled the Vatican`s 2008 statistics, claims that Muslims make up 19.2 percent of the world population and Catholics 17.4 percent. Referring to 2006, Formenti told Vatican newspaper L`Osservatore Romano, “For the first time in history we are no longer at the top: the Muslims have overtaken us.“ Formenti explained that while the percentage of Catholics was fairly stable worldwide, that the percentage of Muslims has grown with higher birth rates. The data on Muslim populations was compiled by individual countries and reported by the United Nations while the Vatican vouches for its own statistics.
One day after Vatican baptism, Muslim-born and Catholic-convert journalist Magdi Allam wrote that Islam is physiologically violent and historically confliction. In the midst of talks with Muslim leaders and intellectuals, the Vatican has come under fire for allowing a Muslim to be baptized in such a public way. The Vatican newspaper stressed however, that this inter-religious dialogue is of extreme importance and that Allam’s baptism was a papal gesture aimed at stressing religious freedom, and that no hostile intentions were meant towards Islam. Reverend Federico Lombardi said that Allam has the right to express his own ideas.
On Easter services at the Vatican, Pope Benedict baptized a Muslim-born convert, who is among Italy’s most famous and controversial journalists. Magdi Allam, a 55-year old Egyptian-born journalists and fierce critic of Islamic extremism and strong supporter of Israel, kept his conversion to Christianity a well-kept secret, disclosed by the Vatican in a statement less than an hour before Easter evening services began. For the Catholic Church, each person who asks to receive baptism after a deep personal search, a fully free choice and adequate preparation, has a right to receive it,” the letter said. In 2006, Allam defended the Pope when made a statement that many Muslims perceived and depicted Islam as a violent faith. Allam has stated that he was never a devout Muslim; while he never prayed five times a day or fasted during Ramadan, he did make the pilgrimage to Mecca with his deeply religious mother in 1991. The Union of Islamic Communities in Italy – which Allam has criticized as having links to Hamas – was quoted as saying “He is an adult, free to make his personal choice in a statement by the group’s spokesman, Issedin El Zir.
Security officials in Italy are treating Osama’ bin Laden’s new accusations against Pope Benedict very seriously. An interior minister spokesperson said that security and anti-terrorism officials plan to meet and examine the taped message, in which the Al Qaeda leader said that offending cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad were part of a new crusade involving the Pope. The accusations are absolutely unfounded said the pope’s chief spokesperson, Reverend Federico Lombardi. While Bin Laden did not specify any action or target, Italian security is concerned, the Vatican has no plans for altering security that is already in place for public events leading up to Easter.
Pope Benedict XVI has approved the first-ever Catholic-Muslim forum which will hold its first meeting at the Vatican in November 2008. The decision follows three days of meetings with Vatican officials and a Muslim delegation representing 138 Muslim scholars. Inspired by Prince Ghazi bin Muhammed bin Talal of Jordan, these scholars wrote an open letter to the Pope and other Christian leaders last year, calling for greater dialogue between the groups. The first summit’s theme will be Love of God, Love of Neighbour and will take place 4-6 November at the Vatican. Nearly 50 delegates will attend; the group will be addressed by the pontiff.