Monsignor Harry J. Byrne, JCD * * * Comment/

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Location: 3103 Arlington Avenue,, Bronx, NY 10463, United States

August 4, 2010


This week, the NYC Landmarks Commission refused to designate a building two blocks from Ground Zero, where the twin towers of the World Trade Center were destroyed by Muslim jihadists. This refusal partially opened the way to the construction of an Islamic Community Center on the site. It would provide outlets for Muslim educational and cultural programs, aimed, according to its sponsors, at building a bridge between cultures, by emphasizing what the sponsors term, the peacefulness of Islam.

The prospect of this Islamic Center at the area, where over three thousand Americans were killed by Muslim terrorists, has evoked spirited opposition, by some in anger and by others after peaceful consideration. Many view the project as an insult to those who lost loved ones in the 9/11 inferno; others, as a symbol of an Islamic victory. A law suit has been brought by opponents, claiming that the action of the Landmarks Commission was taken after unlawful pressures moved the process rapidly along. Many object on the basis of sensitivity to the feelings of survivors and to the nation-wide trauma felt at the destruction of lives and of buildings possessed of symbolic meaning. Mayor Bloomberg, candidate for governor, Andrew Cuomo, and other political figures are swept up in a flourish for support of the mosque in terms of our democratic values, especially, our treasured freedom of religion.

I come down on the side of opposition because of sensitivity. Friendly neighbors are guided not just by the law but by their sensitivity to neighbors feelings. The mosque people are showing a remarkable lack of the sensitivity that would be expected of friends and bridge builders. Japanese friends would hardly think of building a Japanese cultural center at Pearl Harbour. Plans to locate a Catholic convent next to Auschwitz were scuttled when sensitivity was factored in.

A priest in NY meets a lot of friendly people in the course of his ministry. The Muslims I have thus encountered, admittedly only a few, have been far from friendly. I have officiated at many Catholic-Jewish weddings, all marked by a friendly priest-rabbi collaboration. I've had only one Catholic-Muslim wedding. There was difficulty securing the services of an imam. After many attempts, they found an agreeable one from the UN. I telephoned him, as per my custom with a rabbi, to discuss how we would arrange the dual ceremony. "Don't worry about it", he curtly remarked, "Not a problem. I will come. I will do my ceremony. Then I shall leave. You can do whatever you want." Thank you, imam. Go build a bridge.

Another happening: A baby in the preborn nursery at Bellview passed away. Catholic mother and Muslim father wanted a ceremony, embracing both faiths. As I had anticipated, they could not secure an imam. A relative did a reading from the Qur'an at an evening service at Epiphany, attended by nurses and physicians from the neo-natal care unit. They had been so impressed by the little one's fight for life! A procession wended its way to the church plaza. Someone released a cluster of white balloons that floated upward in the night sky.

I hope the mosque people will exercise our freedom of religion, not known in Muslim countries, by building their mosque, but, with sensitivity to their neighbors, by building it in another part of the city. In my next post, I shall provide some other aspects of Islam that keep me from supporting the Ground Zero site.