In this city of Caesars and popes, renowned for its domed churches, a new star was born Wednesday, springing officially to life with a promise of interreligious dialogue but also sparking an undercurrent of complaint.
Rome’s first mosque - and Europe’s largest such temple - drew blue-ribbon celebrants from cross and crescent to its opening a few miles from St. Peter’s Basilica.
The president of Italy, a Saudi prince, Vatican prelates, Arab and Western diplomats, politicians, the mayor of Rome and leaders of Italy’s small Jewish community all shared in the long-awaited opening.
Moroccan Ambassador Zine Abidine Sebti hailed the center as a major step “toward demolishing the campaigns of information which paint Islam as a violent and extremist religion while Islam has proclaimed equality and peaceful coexistence.”
Italian President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro applauded Rome’s newest house of worship as evidence of Italy’s constitutional commitment to equality and freedom of religion.
“Sorrowfully, we must note, however, that in some parts of the world, some religions do not enjoy full freedom, thus trampling the dignity of man,” said Scalfaro.
A similar note of reproof came from Pope John Paul II. In his Wednesday public audience, he welcomed the new mosque, noting that “it is significant that in Rome, center of Christianity, Muslims have their own place of prayer in full respect of their freedom of conscience.”