Australia's Muslim leaders have opened their mosques and schools to
house Roman Catholic pilgrims for World Youth Day as part of efforts to
ease interfaith tensions. The Australian Federation of Islamic
Councils is also planning mixed-faith sporting competitions and mosque
open days for the international festival. From Sydney, Phil Mercer
Roman Catholic leaders in Australia sought the help of
other faiths to help house an army of foreign pilgrims arriving for the
World Youth Day events this week.
Sydney's Muslim community responded with an offer to accommodate young visitors in Islamic schools.
Islamic leaders here see World Youth Day as an opportunity to break down barriers between the faiths.
Father Mark Podesta, a Catholic priest, says the involvement of Islamic schools is an important step forward.
thing that really marks Sydney and marks Australia is the fact that we
come from many different backgrounds, many different faiths, many
different ethnicities, nationalities and yet we all live alongside one
another in peace, with goodwill and in harmony and so this is an
opportunity to build bridges, to forge friendships and to break down
barriers," he said. "This is an opportunity to show the rest of the
world that people of different backgrounds and different beliefs can
live alongside one another in peace and goodwill and harmony."
Benedict XVI is in Sydney for World Youth Day, which is expected to
draw more than 100,000 foreign visitors and tens of thousands of
Australians to the city.
Relations between Australia Muslim
community of 350,000 and its Christian majority at times are strained.
In December 2005 groups of young white Australians clashed with those
of Middle Eastern backgrounds in the Sydney beachside suburb of
In May local officials rejected plans to build an
Islamic school on the outskirts of the country's biggest city, Sydney.
Critics say the decision was based on racism, but officials say the
school was rejected because of town planning issues, such as traffic
Last year Pope Benedict sparked fury in the Muslim world
when he quoted a medieval text that criticized some teachings of the
Prophet Muhammad as "evil and inhuman".
Archbishop, Cardinal George Pell, defended the pontiff's comments and
drew a link between Islamists and violence.
Church officials have said the pope's visit to Australia has fostered a new spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation.
Benedict is taking a few days rest after arriving in Sydney Sunday. He
begins his official engagements on Thursday, when he travels across
Sydney's iconic harbor.
World Youth Day is expected to attract more foreign visitors than the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.