Published Date: November 11, 2007 ]
Believe it or not! A parish Church turns into a mosque
every Friday, for the Muslims brothers and to offer their
customary prayers. This isn't a sequence from any Hollywood
film, but a reality in the parish of Our Lady of Assumption
of Ponzano near Venice, the romantic city of Italy. The
pastor of the parish, Don Aldo Danieli, 69, affirms, "It's
useless to speak of religious dialogue and then bang the
door on their face. Pope John Paul II addressed them as,
'dear Muslim brothers'. How can we close our church doors
Ponzano, in the province of Treviso, live some 11,500
people of whom 232 families are immigrants, making their
number roughly 650. These are mainly immigrants from North
African countries and Eastern Europe. Two years ago, Don
Aldo decided to open the doors of the church to these
Muslim immigrants and keep a portion of his own parochial
house including a kitchen and a little at their disposal.
On Fridays an average of 200 Muslim believers gather in
the church and offer prayers. But in the month of Ramadan,
the number swells to 1000-1200. "They requested me
and I said yes, moreover, the kitchen and hall were a
home for spiders".
decision of Don Aldo has disturbed the peace of mind of
more than a few parishioners. The protests of even the
local bishop and priests have reached his ears. "I
haven't asked the express permission of the bishop, because
it's an act of charity. No permission is needed to do
charity. For the rest, I am older than the bishop and
been his professor in the seminary too. Even if had prohibited
me, I wouldn't be obliged to obey him," Don Aldo
is firm in his resolve. He does not hesitate to proclaim,
"Better praying Muslims than non praying Christians.
If you brand me a racist, you are wrong". In the
last two years a Don Aldo has received a number of emails
and letters advising him to "remain with his own
flock". The letters cautioned him, "These people
come as immigrants and then claim the place for themselves
and throw us out". Don Aldo has taken into confidence
the Parish Pastoral Council and is unrelenting. "The
pope has exhorted to open wide the doors to Christ: Christ
lives in Muslims too."
there have been protests from public spheres too. "I
urge the bishop to clarify the position of the Church
in this regard", demands Luca Zaia, the vice president
of the Federation of a few right wing politicians, "so
that this does not set a precedence for such efforts in
the history of Venice". "Moreover, in this initiative,
there isn't a grain of reciprocity. In some of the Muslim
countries, they won't give an inch to us to offer our
prayers. These "feel-good" gestures would lead
us nowhere. Integration must begin from their part. The
immigrants must learn to insert themselves into mainstream,
our culture, traditions and identity. The immigrants must
know that before demanding their rights, they must adhere
to their duties." Luca justifies.
Aldo runs an Arab School in the church premises, for the
education of immigrant Muslim children.
of late has been a favourite destination for immigrants
especially for North African and Eastern European Muslims.
The public opinion with regard to immigrants is divided.
"At last, a tangible gesture of openness and acceptance",
comments one in the largest Italian ?Corriere della Sera'.
"It's useless to preach openness and then hold on
to one's own prejudices. This priest makes us trust in
the future," writes another. "The saddest thing
is that, the church of Our Lady of Assumption has larger
congregation on Fridays than Sundays" comments one,
"Hope one day the pastor does not convert himself
to Islam" quips another in ?La Repubblica' daily.
Yet the majority is supporting the gesture of the pastor,
Don Aldo Danieli.
the case of Don Aldo is being discussed and debated, in
Padova, the city of St. Anthony, the members of the federation
of the right wing politicians, have paraded a pig in the
location where the municipality of Padova had decided
to transfer the existing mosque from Anelli Street. The
leader of the confederation, Mariella Mazzetto said:"
We have ?blessed' the place by parading a pig, before
the municipality could transfer the mosque to the place."
" This is a question of Italian identity. We demand
a referendum be done by the municipality before they venture
into such stupidities".
mayor of Padova, Flavio Zanonato, condemning the act,
said: "The majority of the dwellers of Padova are
ashamed of this. This isn't the culture of Padova. In
this city live more than 7,000 Muslim immigrants. While
we are discovering ways and means to live a well integrated
life, this type of acts sends out a wrong message to them".
the changed circumstances of globalization, Italy is slowly
getting used to immigrants of religions and cultures other
than Christian. Cases like Don Aldo's, give rise to regional
and national debates on integration and immigration, which
are so important to a country in which the Heart of Christianity
courtesy - Corriere della Sera, La Repubblica