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.”
“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.