A formal request to share the Roman Catholic cathedral in Cordoba with the city’s Muslims was not advanced to the Catholic Church, said Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialog.
The archbishop confirmed this in an interview with AsiaNews after news broke that Spanish authorities suggested the cathedral be used also by Muslims in order to respect “the building’s universal value” and to show a Catholic Church that is “open and dialogical.” The Muslim community reportedly issued a formal request, but the archbishop confirmed that the Church never received such a request.
Archbishop Fitzgerald provided the context for the discussion by relating what took place at a Catholic-Muslim convention last March.
“Last March our council, together with the World Islamic Call Society … organized talks on the formation of priests and imams,” recounted the archbishop. “During the convention, Mr. Escudero of Cordoba presented a request in Spanish, with a letter written by the mayor of Cordoba, addressed to the head of the Muslim delegation, Dr. Sherif, and mentioned it was their wish to share the use of the cathedral,” he said. However, the topic was never discussed and a formal request was not made.
“The shared use of a building by various churches is problematic,” explained the archbishop. “There are spaces dedicated to this purpose, for example, in airports. But they are not churches or mosques,” he said. “They are interfaith spaces, capable of being used by Jews, Christians, Muslims and persons of other faiths alike. But this is based on a type of agreement to allow for their shared use. Yet this not the reality in Cordoba, where the building belongs to a specific community.”
The archbishop pointed out that the Pope visited the Ummayade Mosque in Damascus and prayed in front of the tomb of St. John the Baptist, but he did not ask to celebrate mass in the mosque.
“Spain’s government authorities are trying to please all sectors of society. But perhaps they have not the necessary theological sensitivity to understand the Church’s position,” he told AsiaNews. “We, too, want to live in peace with persons of other religions. However, we don’t want to be pushed, manipulated and go against the very rules of our faith.
“Wherever, there is a Christian chapel, it makes sense to keep using it as it is intended originally and not as a common worship space,” he said. “Wherever there is no space for worship, state authorities can also think of creating a shared space there.”
The archbishop added that if a Catholic chapel has the Blessed Sacrament inside, “it should not be used to for prayer services of another religious tradition.”