Recognizing a Nation’s Religious Heritage

Pope John Paul II reproaches decision to take down crucifixes
( [email protected] ) Nov 01, 2003 06:40 PM EST

VATICAN CITY - Pope John Paul II criticized the decision to take down crucifixes from public school as “undemocratic and dangerous” for Italy’s heritage, during an interior ministers meeting in Rome, Friday, October 31.

"Recognizing (a nation's) religious heritage means recognizing the symbols that set it apart," said John Paul to the European Union representatives.

The court ruling, made in favor of Adel Smith, a Muslim rights activist did not want his children to see crucifixes in their schools, ordered the local Ofena public school to take down all of its crucifixes by the end of November.

"The Vatican is one thing, the Republic of Italy is another," Smith said.

However, many of the leaders of Italy’s Muslim community detached themselves from Smith; some have gone so far as to reproach his actions.

"This was an unfortunate ruling brought on by a request from Mr. Adel Smith, who represents himself and another three people at most,” said spokesman in Italy for the World Muslim League.

Critics warn that the repercussions of the trial may ultimately cause more tension between the two faiths than before, possibly fueling greater intolerance for Muslims in the mainly Catholic community.

Immediately following the ruling, Local newspapers published pictures of Catholics outside churches and schools with signs that read: "Muslim hands off our crucifixes."

The Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, also printed a front-page illustration of Jesus juxtaposed with a 1998 comment from Pope John Paul II. "Many things can be removed from us Christians, but the cross as a sign of salvation we will not let them take. We will not allow it to be excluded from public life."

During Friday’s meeting, the pope directly addressed a need for "proper recognition, even through laws, of distinctive religious traditions."

Calling the case an “incorrect interpretation” of the principles of social equality, the Pope firmly asserted that religious symbols cannot be forcefully renounced.

"Social co-existence and peace cannot be achieved by erasing the religious distinctiveness of each people," he said, “Such attempts would not only futile but even undemocratic.”