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Monday, August 30, 2010

"There Are Things That Are Shared, and Others That Are Not"


That was the statement last week of  Bishop Demetrio Fernandez, the bishop of Cordoba, Spain, concerning the demand of local Muslims to worship in the Cordoba Cathedral.  The cathedral had been built in the 13th century on the site of  the former Great Mosque of Cordoba when King Ferdinand III recaptured the area in 1236.  The mosque was erected after the Moorish conquest in the 8th century, prior to which the site had been occupied by the church of St. Vincent. 

The Christian Post reported Bishop Fernandez as saying that Catholic-Muslim relations in Cordoba have been good and that he "...wants to collaborate with Muslims in search of "peace, justice and coexistence between peoples.  But that is one thing.  It's another, very different, to want to share the same temple for worship, which is neither possible for Muslims nor for Catholics."  The bishop also said that sharing the cathedral would be "like a man sharing his wife with another man."

The bishops of Cordoba have been resisting the overtures of Muslim groups to share the worship space for some time now.  Back in 2004 Catholic Culture blog reported that Mansur Escudero, secretary general of the Spanish Islamic Council, applied to the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue, requesting the ability to worship in the cathedral.  While the bishop of Cordoba remained circumspect, Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald of the Pontifical Council was more pointed when he "... advised Cordoba’s Muslims to 'accept history,' rather than seeking to regain the building they had long ago lost, or 'take revenge' on the Church. The archbishop observed that Christians have not sought to reclaim former Christian church buildings in the Middle East that have fallen under Islamic jurisdiction."
 

In spite of the bishops' unwavering rejection of the shared worship space concept, groups continue to push the issue.  In addition, some local politicians also support the idea of making the site available for Muslim worship.  This struggle in Spain also sheds some light on current events in New York City.  When one understands the history of the conflict in the region, the rationale behind naming the proposed mosque at Ground Zero as "the Cordoba Project" takes on a more ominous significance.

Last week, Escudero, was quoted as saying that the shared worship space would be “a beautiful paradigm of tolerance, knowledge, culture.”  Unfortunately, he is ignoring the fact that it is no longer a mosque, but a cathedral. What a trampling of religious rights it would be if Catholics were forced to open up their cathedrals and churches for use by other religions because of centuries old historical claims.  Unfortunately, in the world we live in things that would have seemed ridiculous in the not so distant past, are now distinct possibilities.

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