The Catholic Church in the United States has expressed its solidarity with the Muslim community of Tampa, whose mosque was destroyed by arson nearly two weeks ago.
"The Catholic Church is standing with any house of worship that is being damaged or burned or smeared with graffiti," said Fr. Francis Tiso.
The priest works for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ interreligious affairs office in Washington, D.C. He was in Tampa for the 39th annual convention of the National Federation of Priests' Councils this week and decided to visit the mosque on Sunday, reported the St. Petersburg Times.
During a session at the five-day conference, Fr. Tiso will help lead a talk on Muslim-Catholic dialogue in the United States.
Ahmed Bedier, executive director of the Tampa chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, was with Fr. Tiso for the visit of the burnt-out Islamic Education Center of Tampa.
"An attack on any house of worship is an attack on all houses of worship," Bedier told the Times. "It's unacceptable."
"This type of act isn't going to frighten us off," Bedier reportedly said. Worshippers have pledged to build a bigger mosque in its place, but it could take 18 months or longer.
The FBI is currently investigating the arson. A $12,500 reward has been offered to anyone with information that leads to an arrest and conviction.
The April 12 fire caused $100,000 in damages. The mosque was uninsured, Bedier said, because it was paid off.
"When you see this kind of damage, you know that's an attack at the heart of the community," Fr. Tiso was quoted as saying in the Times. "It's an attack on something spiritual, which for a priest, is horrifying."
"This is not the America I grew up in," Fr. Tiso told the Times. "We were not taught to throw gasoline on somebody's house of worship."