An Italian priest is under fire from locals for deciding against setting up the typical Nativity scene in his town’s cemetery this year, Italian news source Corriere della Sera reported on Friday.
The priest, Father Sante Braggie, was concerned that the display would offend Muslims, as well as atheists and people of other faiths.
Fr. Braggie serves as the chaplain of the Municipal Cemetery of Cremona and curate of the local parish in northern Italy. The Nativity was typically set up in the cemetery, and would have been visible from the part of the cemetery reserved for Muslim graves, he said.
“A crib positioned within sight of them could be seen as a lack of respect for followers of other faiths, hurt the sensibilities of Muslims, as well as Indians and even atheists,” Braggie said, according to a translation published in Express.
“In short, it would be a mess.”
Father Oreste Mori, who used to serve at the cemetery, said the move was unbelieveable.
“We cannot renounce our culture and traditions. That would be an unpardonable weakness,” he said. “I am, for the time being at least, in Italy, not Saudi Arabia,” Fr. Mori added.
Several town councilors have also been working to reinstate the Nativity display since the news broke. Town councilor Cristina Cappellini said the Nativity was a symbol “of our culture, of our traditions, of our Christian identity.”
Italy has a Muslim population of approximately 1.6 million people. More than half of all Muslims live in the north of the country. According to a study from the interior ministry study, the largest group of Muslims – approximately 120,000 – live in Milan, a city approximately 60 miles north of Cremona.
Like the rest of Europe, Italy has experienced a sharp increase in Muslim and other refugees from the Middle East in the past two years.
Islam is not an officially recognized religion by the state in Italy.