An Italian priest has decided not to put up a nativity scene this Christmas because he doesn’t want to offend Muslims, a move that has outraged his colleagues in the church and rankled town officials as well, The Express is reporting.
The town of Cremona, in northern Italy, has an arrangement with the local Catholic church that puts the priest of that church in charge of managing the local cemetery. Since 2010, according to Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera, the cemetery manager has put up a nativity scene in a section of the cemetery every Christmas.
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This year, however, there will be no nativity scene. Italy, like much of Europe, has seen its share of Muslims immigrating to the country, refugees in particular. And in Cremona, a “small corner” of the cemetery is reserved for Muslim graves. Father Sante Braggiè, the new priest who just took over the job a few months ago, says that having a nativity scene within sight of Muslim graves won’t do.
“A [nativity scene] positioned within sight of them could be seen as a lack of respect for followers of other faiths, hurt the sensibilities of Muslims, as well as Indians and even atheists. In short, it would be a mess.”
Braggiè also expressed concern about enough workers being available to maintain the nativity scene.
Whether or not a nativity scene within sight of Muslim graves is considered offensive is debatable; each Muslim is different, of course. However, based on a review of some articles by Muslim scholars about funerals and graves, the topic of Christian symbolism such as nativity scenes doesn’t seem to come up when the topic is discussed.
For example, the Islamic Center of Raleigh posted “The Basic Rules of Islamic Funerals,” a document laying out, in exacting detail, the procedures that must be followed when a Muslim dies and is buried. The rules for graves mention such things as the height of the tombstone, what writing is permissible on the tombstone, and similar legalities. The document does not mention the need for Muslim graves to be out of sight of Christian graves or Christian symbolism.
Back in Italy, Father Braggiè’s decision to cancel the nativity scene is causing outrage, both from within his church and within his community.
Father Oreste Mori, the man who, until a few months ago, had the job that is now Braggiè’s, says that Italy is a Christian nation, as far as he remembers.
“Seriously? I can’t believe it. We cannot renounce our culture and traditions. That would be an unpardonable weakness. I am, for the time being at least, in Italy, not Saudi Arabia.”
Similarly, town Councillor Cristina Cappellini hopes that Braggiè remembers that Italians, in the main, are Christians and revere Christian symbolism like nativity scenes.
“I hope Father Braggiè changes his mind and apologizes to the community. A parish priest should preserve, honor and promote the symbols of our culture, of our traditions, of our Christian identity.”
For what it’s worth, Father Braggiè is not planning on doing away with the nativity scene entirely, according to Corriere Della Sera. It just won’t be at the cemetery and within sight of the Muslim section. Rather, he says, it will be inside the church, in a small chapel on the church grounds.
Do you believe Father Braggiè was right to decline to put up a nativity scene in the town cemetery for fear of offending Muslims?
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