Page 7, 1st February 1974

1st February 1974
Page 7
Page 7, 1st February 1974 — Mosque must fit Rome's 'character'

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Locations: Rome, Mecca, Jerusalem


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Mosque must fit Rome's 'character'

Although Pope Paul has agreed that Moslems should be permitted to erect their own mosque in Rome, this centre of Catholicism, its completion is still likely to be a matter of years.

The unprecedented Papal move was announced last month by Professor Federico Alessandrini, the official Vatican spokesman, but Vatican sources revealed that the Pope's decision was taken shortly after he had received King Feisal of Saudi Arabia in private audience here last autumn.

But the decision was kept a closely guarded secret and made public by Professor Alessandrini only after the Holy Sec had consulted the Italian Government, through the Nuncio to the Quirinale, since this mosque would be built on City of Rome land — Italian and not Holy See territory. There was an immediate denial, too, from the Vatican that the Holy See's decision to recognise the Moslem religion's right to have a place of worship in Rome was in any way concerned with the present oil crisis or that the Italian Government had brought pressure to bear on the Vatican as a means of placating the oil-producing Arab nations.

Professor Alessandrini said in his announcement: "The Pope has no objections to the construction of a mosque, so that the Moslem residents in the capital and those passing through Rome could have their own place of worship and meditation.

"It is superfluous to note that in so far as regards the location, the external dimensions of the building and other details, attention must be paid to the special character of Rome, the centre of Catholicism."

There are an estimated total of some 120,000 Moslems in the whole of Italy, with 4,000 of them in Rome — mainly employed in the embassies and government offices of the carious Arab nations with representation in Italy.

These have sought to have a mosque in Rome for the past 3(1 vears. Sonic 20 years ago the Shah of Iran, on a visit to Rome, suggested that it would be possible to build one on Monte Mario. but Pope Pius XII objected that this would dominate all the churches of the city, including St. Peter's.

, Permission was refused at that time, and the Vatican is reported to have told the Shah that a mosque could be built in Rome provided that there was the reciprocal gesture of permitting a Catholic church to be erected in Mecca. Since non

Moslems are not even permitted to set foot in this holy city of the Islam Faith, such a quid pro quo was rejected.

Today Rome is one of the few European capitals without a mosque. There are 20 in Yugoslavia and two in Greece. which fought a bitter and protracted war to oust the Moslem Turks from the territory,.

A Syrian architect is reported to he working on initial plans for the Rome mosque hut. as yet, no location has been chosen.

One Arab ambassador to Rome said: "We have started a fund-raising drive among Italian-based Moslems. But this will take time, and since this mosque will represent the faith of all Arab nations as well as other nationalities such as Pakistan, the religious leaders of the various countries must be consulted."

Radio Vatican, the semiofficial voice of the Holy See, has broadcast Vatican satisfaction over the agreement reached between Israel and Egypt on cease-fire lines, withdrawals and further talks.

But the broadcast stressed the need to protect the rights of the Palestinians' and once again raised the question of the status of Jerusalem, which has been mentioned often by Pope Paul and was especially emphasised on December 21.

Pope Paul has constantly referred to the need to internationalise the City of Jerusalem and the Holy Places, but his pleas have been rejected by Israel leaders, who see Jerusalem as the traditional capital of the Jewish nation.

A referendum nobody wants

A national referendum aimed at revoking the divorce law passed by the Italian Parliament in inevitable, although no one wants it,1970 now appears, December Not a single one of the political forces, including the Christian Democrat Party, wants this referendum at the present moment but none of them seems able to get out of the dilemma.

Political feelings, especially among the Centre-Left and Left of the spectrum, run feverishly st threo ndgi v oi nrefea vl aowu by these groups after a ten-yearr whicho f maintaining w as w won struggle.

But all parties realise that an appeal to the nation in a referendum would split not only the country apart but even the parties, and it is the Christian Democrats who have the most to lose.

This party, which has headed every post-war government, risks a split in its ranks and a secession from the central body by its Left-Wing elements which form almost a quarter of the total party strength.

An appeal to the Vatican to work for a compromise has fallen on deaf ears, and official Vatican reactions even exacerbated the question when Prof. Federico Alessandrini announced last week that the Holy See stood rigidly by the Concordat with Italy. This Concordat did indeed make the Church sole arbiter of marital dissolution, but it was signed with Benito Mussolini, then dictator of the Fascist State. in 1929. And. again, the

ffilian Constitutional Court, late last year, declared that the divorce law, protested against. by Vatician lawyers, was not unconstitutional.

The root of the problem lies in the fact that when the divorce law was passed and, in fact, up to the last elections, the Left and Centre-Left elements held a majority of seats in Parliament.

With the 1972 elections this balance passed to the Centre and Right — the Christian Democrats, Liberals and neofascist Socialist Movement parties.

Since the elections the Christian Democrats have steadfastly refused to ally themselves with the neo-fascists in any Chamber vote and have now formed a Centre-Left coalition government with Socialists, Social Democrats and Republicans.

Any referendum on divorce will split this Centre-Left coalition since to win it the Christian Democrats would be forced to seek the fascists as allies. This in turn would split not only their own party but arouse such Fury in others that polarisation would seem the only outcome — communists versus fascists.

And, faced with this choice, the majority of the Italian nation, in the opinion of many observers, might opt for an Italian brand of neo-fascism rather than communism.

On all sides and from all parties there are appeals to sanity and the avoidance of a referendum. The only possible solution today deemed viable would be for Parliament to pass a modified divorce law although this is a moot point since the present Bill is the weakest found in any modern nation and requires a minimum of five years' separation.

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