Spain: Muslims continue demand for joint-use of Catholic churches

Bishop Demetrio Fernandez of Cordoba, Spain, affirmed on June 12 that any “joint use” by Muslims wishing to worship at the Catholic cathedral in that city is but “a euphemism that means: Catholics, get out! We will not leave, except if we are kicked out, since for 16 centuries there has been Christian worship here.” The cathedral, part of which was a mosque for several hundred years until the late 1400s, has been a Catholic place of worship ever since; it is regarded as one of the architectural gems of Europe.

Muslim rights groups have been demanding that the Catholic Church allow Muslims to use the space once again as a mosque in an as yet determined joint use agreement.
Bishop Fernandez added, “therefore, the answer to the question about joint use is, no, we will not leave because in this place the Catholic Church has existed for 16 centuries while the Muslims have been here but four and a half centuries.”

Nonetheless, the bishop said that the Church maintains a good relationship with Muslims and is constantly seeking “peace, justice, and coexistence of nations; that is one thing, but it is quite another to share the same temple for worship, which is impossible.”

Indeed, said the bishop, sharing the catedral is not possible “neither on the part of Muslims since Muslims do not allow a shared temple, and neither do we Catholics.”

Speaking on a Friday, the bishop pointed out that it is important “to know, that where Muslims pray, no one else may pray, which is to say, if I permit Muslims to pray in the Cordoba Cathedral, we could go the day after tomorrow; then, to permit the Muslims to pray in the Cathedral is equivalent to telling Catholics to saying goodbye and good night, and that would be irresponsible.” Bishop Fernandez averred that “some things may be shared and others are not; and the Cathedral of Cordoba is not to be shared with Muslims.”

There has been an uptick of security at the Cathedral since April 2010 following an altercation that arose during Holy Week when a group of Muslims attempted to force their way into the Catholic place of worship. There were two people injured in that incident, leading Bishop Fernandez to say that the Church “has taken note of the matter, it has studied it and has responded appropriately, since it has the means to do so,” even while he did not note what was the response.

The cathedral is actually a unique phenomenon in that it is a church built entirely within what was once a mosque. The complex consists of the former mosque, which is built upon a series of magnificent columns and Moorish arches. The mosque was built upon the remains of a Catholic church of Visigothic times that was razed by the Muslim invaders following their entry into Spain in 711 AD. The mosque utilized materials, such as marble columns, that were filched from other Catholic temples razed by the Muslims. The Muslims were not finally routed until 1492, the same year of Christopher Columbus’ initial voyage to the Americas, when Muslim forces were defeated at Granada by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel. The Church, rather than razing the beautiful structure left by the Muslims, would instead sacralize it as a Christian place of worship.

Modern Muslims, led by convert Mansur Escudero, have demanded that Catholic churches – which they argue are little used – should be turned over to Muslims for their use. Socialists, such as Cordoba’s public defender Jose Chamizo, have argued in favor of joint use of Catholic churches. Cordoba already has a mosque, bloggers note. Immigrants from Africa and the Mideast continue to stream into Spain, while those already there have now been given amnesty to remain in the country. Many are now unemployed, as are many non-Muslim Spaniards, due to the economic slump. Muslim immigrants frequently pray in the streets and sidewalks of Spain, in an attempt to attest to their perceived need for worship spaces.



Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. He is also a freelance translator.

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