Two priests in Italy who sought to invite Muslims to pray inside of their churches in order to promote tolerance within their Tuscan diocese have clashed with Bishop Fausto Tardelli of Pistoia, who says Muslims can find other places to pray.
"The deserved, necessary and respectful welcome of people who practice other faiths and religions does not mean offering them space for prayers inside churches designed for liturgy and the gathering of Christian communities," Tardelli said in a March 19 statement, according to Religion News Service.
The two priests, Rev. Massimo Biancalani and the Rev. Alessandro Carmignani, said they plan to defy the bishop and host the 18 Muslim refugees in three parishes roughly 25 miles north of Florence.
The priests said responding to the call from Pope Francis to provide assistance to refugees, and they believe praying together would be a good way to promote cross-cultural understanding between the immigrants and their own congregations.
"What is the problem?" Biancalani asked.
"If we want to give them a proper welcome and integration it makes no sense to make them pray in a cellar. Whoever wants to can pray inside the church, whoever does not want to can do it in another space. They don’t need much; the important thing is that they can face Mecca."
The priests have drawn extraordinary backlash to their decision on social media and have reportedly even received "menacing" phone calls related to the matter.
Meanwhile, on March 16, Pope Francis called for European nations to open their borders to the refugees, Independent Catholic News reported.
"Today's migrants who suffer the cold, are without food," Francis told those gathered in St. Peter's Square for his General Audience. "They cannot enter. They do not feel welcome. It really pleases me when I hear and see that nations, authorities open the heart and open the doors!"