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Catholics Find Common Ground With Muslims over Struggles in Manhattan

You know the controversy about Manhattan's Islamic community center? Two centuries ago, the Catholics went through the same thing.


In a recent interview with the Architectural Record, the architect behind Park 51 (the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque") notes he is a Lebanese Catholic, which all things considered, is not all that remarkable in New York. What may be remarkable in a city where hundreds of churches, temples, and mosques sit side by side and Atheists give millions to Catholic schools is the degree to which history has repeated itself almost 225 years later.

In a recent New York Times article the Rev. Kevin V. Madigan tells of the rocky start that his church St. Peter's (the oldest Catholic church in the city) had when it was first proposed.


In 1785, not far from where the nation's first Congress would be held, where, four years later, George Washington would be inaugurated our first President, and two centuries later an Islamic community center and mosque would be proposed, a fight was brewing that feels remarkably similar to the one we've seen underway for the last few months.

According to the Times protesters of the new church feared foreign investment (the Papacy), that Catholicism was incompatible with American democracy, and "popish superstitions" (Christmas celebrations) among other things. According to Madigan the protests and attacks against Islam were not as vicious as those once directed at Catholics, which eventually included the death of a police officer.

“We were treated as second-class citizens; we were viewed with suspicion,” Rev. Madigan wrote in a letter to St. Peter's parishioners. "Many of the charges being leveled at Muslim-Americans today are the same as those once leveled at our forebears.”

The parable Madigan suggests resonates beyond Catholicism. At a recent event in New York, Auschwitz survivor and foundation head Elie Wiesel proposed building an interfaith center that would bring Jews, Christians, and Muslims together, which, incidentally, is not all that different from what was being proposed in the first place.

"What worries me is," said Wiesel," is there is a new political fanaticism that is unworthy of the American political tradition."
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