(Excerpts the Bishop’s column “Islam and Religious Freedom” in The Tablet, August 28, 2010)
The events of September 11, 2001 will forever be burned into our minds and consciousness. All of us cannot help but be profoundly changed and tens of thousands of our family and friends continue to live with the pain of losing a loved one.
The controversy over the Islamic center near Ground Zero is a complex issue…
The original proposed name of the center – “The Cordoba Initiative” – is the name of an Islamic group that wishes to build the center. Cordoba is a city in Spain which was the center of the Muslim conquest which lasted almost three centuries. Few realize that, only two weeks ago, 100 Muslims occupied the Cathedral of Cordoba, which was a former mosque, to have daily prayer and an attempt to reclaim the Cathedral as a mosque. The name Cordoba itself is politically charged. Perhaps it is more fitting that the proposed center in Manhattan has been changed to Park 51.
The right to religious freedom should be universal in all countries. It is troubling that in Saudi Arabia and some other Muslim countries Christians are forbidden by law to practice their faith and are subject to regular harassment. Even moderate Muslim nations, such as Dubai, impose onerous regulations upon the construction of churches and the free exercise of religion. Again, reciprocity and not compromise or concession is the way to go.
Religious freedom is an important aspect of our Constitutional rights as Americans, and more fundamentally as human beings. The need for places of worship follows from the right for religious freedom. As far as possible, governments should facilitate the construction of places of worship in concert with local safety and other considerations. For Muslims, who are called to prayer five times per day, to have a mosque available to them close to their places of work is critical to the observance of their faith…
The location of the mosque is probably the most difficult issue to deal with. Last week, Archbishop Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, offered to act as an intermediary on this issue, as did Governor David Paterson. It seems, however, that these offers are not being accepted. Archbishop Dolan rightfully made a comparison with the Carmel that was proposed at the gates of the death camp, Auschwitz. The Carmelite Sisters wished to establish a monastery at this site to pray in reparation for the evil that was done in the murder of millions of Jews and Christians. However, they were denied. Pope John Paul II intervened, recognizing that the issue had become one of insensitivity to the views of the Jewish people. The Carmel was relocated and the prayers for reparation continue.
Sensitivity to the Ground Zero site must also be taken into consideration. At the same time, our Christian faith teaches us that forgiveness is the first order of business. For some religions, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth still prevails. We as Christians are called upon to forgive, as Jesus commands us to love our enemies, as difficult as it is to do.
Note: Bishop DiMarzio has been Bishop for Catholics in Brooklyn & Queens since 2003. We have asked religious leaders with congregations or church affiliates near Ground Zero to respond to Mayor Bloomberg's speeches on religion and religious freedom in the city and the mosque controversies. OpEds do not necessarily reflect the views of A Journey .