Archbishop Timothy Dolan hopes that this potentially divisive issue might develop into an occasion of very civil, rational, loving, respectful discussion.

Principles of religious freedom

The New York archbishop is underlining the need for civil, respectful dialogue as controversy heats up over plans for building an Islamic center near the site of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“I know it’s a controversial topic,” said Archbishop Timothy Dolan in a spontaneous press conference Wednesday.

“My major prayer is that what has turned into somewhat of a divisive issue might develop into an occasion of very civil, rational, loving, respectful discussion,” he affirmed.

There has been much controversy over plans to build the Park51 Islamic community center and mosque in a location two blocks from where the World Trade Center stood in New York City before the Sept. 11, 2001, attack by Muslim terrorists.

Some argue that putting an Islamic center so close to Ground Zero, the site of the tragedy, is insensitive to the victims and their families. Others posit that this project will give the Muslims a chance to demonstrate their peaceful values and their desire to coexist with others.

Principles

Archbishop Dolan lauded the city’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg, who

“articulated in a particularly eloquent way the principles of religious freedom and hospitality upon which this country and this wonderful community is based.”

“We as Catholics, of course, have been particularly sensitive when it comes to welcoming others,” the prelate said, underlining the need to “welcome the immigrant and the refugee.”

“We ourselves are somewhat touchy about this issue because in the past we’ve been discriminated against,” he added.

On the other hand, the archbishop acknowledged that “there are thoughtful people on the other side” who have sensitivities that they are trying to bring to people’s attention.

“My prayer,” he said, “is that both sides — in a thoughtful, civil, loving, respectful way — can be heard, and that we can come to some type of responsible, appropriate decision.”

Archbishop Dolan noted that he is “beginning some type of dialogue and conversation in company with other religious leaders” to try to help provide “that kind of rational, civil way to settle it.”

Peacemaker

He also observed that as the secular media has been reporting on the controversy, he was “flattered” to see a couple of journalists refer to the example of Pope John Paul II in the attempt to find a solution.

They spoke about the Pontiff’s example when “there was somewhat of an analogous source of tension at the Auschwitz concentration camp,” he noted. “It was John Paul II who said, ‘We have two sides worth hearing.'”

A group of Carmelites had established a convent near the site of the former concentration camp, but the Jewish community protested.

“There were thoughtful voices on both sides,” the prelate recalled. “The Catholic side with the Carmelite sisters saying, ‘Please, we want to pray here at this sacred spot.’ Thoughtful Jewish voices saying, ‘That sentiment is highly appreciated, but please don’t do anything that might distract from the uniquely sacred Jewish character of this site.'”

The archbishop continued: “John Paul II said, ‘Why don’t we get together civilly and thoughtfully, and with dignity, and maybe decide a good solution.’ He’s the one who said, ‘Let’s keep the idea and maybe move the address.'”

“It worked there,” Archbishop Dolan affirmed. “It might work here.”

He underlined the need to find a solution in a “thoughtful, charitable way.”

When asked by journalists if he would play a role in bringing the conflicting groups together, the prelate said that he would be “honored.”

He added that the New York Archdiocese is already playing a role “in a back door way.”

The archbishop explained, “In a quiet, behind the scenes way, many of our pastors in the area, a lot of our other religious leaders, are already part of the conversation that needs to keep going on.”

NEW YORK, AUG. 19, 2010 (Zenit.org)