Archbishop Urges 'Respectful' Dialogue in Islamic Center Controversy




Archbishop Dolan appealed for New Yorkers to come together in a "thoughtful and respectful exchange" over the proposed Islamic Center and mosque near Ground Zero, saying in a posting on his blog that it's a good way to foster "our real healing" from the trauma of 9/11.

He also said, after discussing the acrimonious Islamic Center debate at a meeting Tuesday with Gov. Paterson, that he and the governor were united in affirming New Yorkers' admirable values of hospitality, welcome and rallying around people who are down-as they did after the tragedy of 9/11.

But he and the governor, he said, also are "a little apprehensive that those noble values may be at risk in the way this conversation and debate about the site of the mosque is taking place."

"What we need is not to be in one another's faces, but to step back and take a sane look" at the situation, "not as protesters, but as promoters of dialogue and civility," the archbishop said in remarks outside the governor's Manhattan office Aug. 24.

In his blog posting Aug. 20, the archbishop said the discussion over the Islamic Center should not be starkly framed as "a choice between religious freedom, on the one hand, and completing our own healing, on the other."

"Both of these duties are good and both are equally necessary," he wrote.

"Sometimes, how we do things is as important as what we do," he wrote. "Never has this been truer than in our present discussion, where civility and regard for the dignity of others must be our priority. Presuming the worst in others always puts dialogue at risk; mutual respect is the basis of all good listening."

The archbishop also said that although he has "no strong sentiment" about the eventual whereabouts of the center, he does have "strong convictions about how such a discussion should be reached: civilly and charitably."

"The hot-heads on either side must not dominate," he said.

He added that he'd be "honored to be part of any such conversations" aimed at peacefully resolving the matter.

Archbishop Dolan wrote about the mushrooming controversy as opponents and supporters of the Islamic Center, dubbed the "Ground Zero mosque," planned counter-demonstrations that took place Sunday morning, Aug. 22.

The highly charged issue, which has become a nationwide story, has also taken on political overtones with various office-seekers jumping on the bandwagon, mainly in opposition, as Election Day nears.

Opponents, in general, say that placing an Islamic community center and mosque in the vicinity of the World Trade Center site is insensitive to families of those killed on 9/11, when Islamic extremists crashed hijacked jetliners into the twin towers. Supporters of the Center, most prominently Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, cite U.S. guarantees of religious freedom and say that all of Islam should not be tarred by the horrendous actions of a few.

Archbishop Dolan, in his blog posting-and at an impromptu news conference two days earlier at Covenant House-noted those two viewpoints, writing that "our nation and our city can be very proud of its long history as a welcome home for immigrants, respecting religious freedom, beliefs and practices."

"As New Yorkers today," he continued, "we also know that we're still healing from the wounds of 9/11, so poignantly symbolized at Ground Zero, where many of the sons and daughters of these same immigrant families died tragically at the hands of extremists diametrically opposed to every ideal that has made us great."

That's why, he wrote, "this is a good time for all of New York, in its varied cultural, ethnic, and religious communities, to come together in thoughtful and respectful exchange so our real healing can begin."

He noted that the late Pope John Paul II's life was "an example of how this kind of good will can resolve centuries-old hatreds, building new bridges between Christians, Jews and Muslims."

"In this same spirit, the Archdiocese of New York hopes to cooperate with other religious leaders in laying the groundwork for a long-term relationship with the city's diverse Islamic groups, extending the hand of friendship long overdue between both of our communities," he wrote.

"Similarly, now is the time for all of us to rededicate ourselves to binding up the unhealed wounds of 9/11, and to consoling the ongoing suffering of its survivors.

"As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, our challenge as New Yorkers is clear: to keep our proud heritage of religious freedom and a warm hospitality to newcomers alive, so that the twin goods of both welcoming and healing are never left unbalanced.

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