Christmas Song Revives Religious Debate
ROME (Reuters) – An Italian teacher’s efforts to make a Christmas carol more acceptable to young Muslim students by removing the word “Jesus” has rekindled the debate over religious symbols in the Roman Catholic country.
A middle-school teacher in the northern Italian town of Como set off a storm when she told Muslims in her class that if they preferred they could replace the line “this is the day of Jesus” with “this is the day of virtue.”
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“Jesus banned in Christmas songs” the daily Il Giornale, run by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s brother, said in a front-page headline Sunday.
“Substituting the word Jesus in a Christmas song is a serious mistake and an offence against the entire Catholic community,” Como’s mayor, Stefano Bruno, from the center-right Forza Italia (Go Italy) party, told Agi news agency.
Religion has been an increasingly prickly issue in Italy as immigrant communities grow.
A judge sparked a nationwide controversy a year ago when he ordered that a crucifix be taken off a school wall. Pope John Paul weighed in saying it was undemocratic and dangerous to try to erase a country’s religious symbols.
Tension mounted again earlier this year when a nursery school refused to hire a Muslim woman, saying her headscarf could scare the children.
But before the latest standoff exploded into a full-blown controversy, the 10- and 11-year-old students resolved the issue by opting to stick to the original lyrics.
The director of the school, Pasquale Capria, told reporters on Sunday: “The foreign students themselves told me it wasn’t a problem for them to sing Jesus.”
Foreigners, many of them Muslim, represent about 20 percent of the students at the school. There are some one million Muslims living in Italy, a country of around 57 million people.
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