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Published: Saturday, 1/3/2004

Cardinal upset with Christians treatment

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, front, says too many Islamic countries treat Christian minorities as second-class citizens. Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, front, says too many Islamic countries treat Christian minorities as second-class citizens.

PARIS - Too many Islamic countries treat their Christian minorities as second-class citizens and bar them from building churches while Western nations let their Muslims build mosques freely, according to a senior Vatican official.

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, who recently retired as the Vatican s foreign minister, told the French Catholic daily La Croix recently that Christianity and Islam faced “an enormous task” of learning to live together in mutual tolerance.

French-born Cardinal Tauran was the latest and highest-ranking Catholic official to voice concern about Vatican relations with Muslims, an issue seen as central for whoever succeeds the ailing Pope John Paul II.

“There are too many majority Muslim countries where non-Muslims are second-class citizens,” said Cardinal Tauran, the church s top diplomat for 13 years before he had to step aside on being made a cardinal by Pope John Paul in October.

Stressing the need for respect for minorities, he singled out “the extreme case of Saudi Arabia, where freedom of religion is violated absolutely - no Christian churches and a ban on celebrating Mass, even in a private home.”

“Just like Muslims can build their houses of prayer anywhere in the world, the faithful of other religions should be able to do so as well,” he said.

Leading church figures have increasingly expressed concern about Islam in view of friction between Muslims and Christians in Africa and the Middle East and the difficult integration of Muslim minorities in traditionally Christian Europe.

La Civilta Cattolica, a Jesuit journal published with Vatican approval, said last October that Islam had a “warlike face” throughout history and charged Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Pakistan discriminated against Christians.

This was seen as a departure from the more balanced approach the Vatican has taken towards the Muslim world, where it usually stressed both positive and negative aspects of its relations.

In Rome that same month to celebrate Pope John Paul s 25th anniversary as Pontiff, several cardinals cited relations with Islam as a key issue for the next papacy, akin to the Communist challenge at the beginning of the Polish pope s reign.

The head of the United States bishops conference, Bishop Wilton Gregory, spoke of potential religious violence.

Referring to Islam in the West and in Africa, he said: “It s growing in places it didn t exist before and it is growing in places where Christianity is growing. The world cannot afford a violence that is born of religious intolerance.”

Saudi Arabia has rejected criticism of its ban on churches, arguing the Vatican would not let mosques be built on its land.

Abid Ullah Jan, a Pakistani writer based in Canada, wrote that the Civilta Cattolica article signaled the Vatican had “joined the ranks of intellectual warriors who are battling Islam with renewed zeal since the fall of the Soviet Union.”

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