French Muslims Prefer Catholic Schools

Consider Them More Open and Tolerant Than State Schools

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PARIS, DEC. 19, 2000 (
A new educational phenomenon has been discovered in France: Many Muslim parents prefer to send their children to Catholic schools.

According to a report published by Simona Serafini in the Italian newspaper Avvenire, Muslims students are increasingly attending Catholic schools, which are considered more tolerant than the state institutions.

One of the Muslim parents interviewed for the article said that «the spiritual values, respect for God and for others, are things we don´t find in public schools.» Because of this, this Muslim father sends his children to a Catholic school in Marseilles.

The Catholic school of Saint-Mauront in Marseilles, the French city with the largest number of Muslim inhabitants, has 104 students, half of whom are French. All of their parents are foreigners, 90% of them Muslims. Some do not speak French and attend special courses. A few girls have been expelled from public schools for wearing the Islamic veil, since the state schools insist on laicism, which prohibits any external sign of confessional membership.

Half of the 4 million Muslims in this nation of 59 million people hold French passports. Curiously, many Muslims turn to Catholic schools to help their children integrate into French society.

«I prefer my children to go to a Catholic school than to a Koranic school,» said one parent. «In fact, the majority of Muslim religious leaders do not speak French, and their Islam, imported from rural zones of the Maghreb, is not adaptable to the reality in which we live. In a Catholic school, on the contrary, the children have a greater chance to integrate.» The parent added: «Is it not true that Muslims and Christians believe in one God who has created the world and leads his creatures to perfection?»

Many Muslim parents are convinced that the Catholic school, as opposed to the public state school that ignores and rejects the religious fact, can help their children accept, understand and integrate into daily life their origin and cultural and religious tradition.

The Avvenire report mentions the case of Alina, who went to a nuns´ school in her native Algeria when she was little. «I have enrolled my daughter in a Catholic school because she is looked after better and receives a good education,» Alina said.

Given this new phenomenon, Catholic schools are beginning to prepare themselves better to receive these students. Two years ago, the French bishops published a document entitled «Catholics and Muslims: A Way to Meet and Dialogue.» It outlined two fundamental principles: The first is to witness to the Catholic faith and avoid proselytism; the second is to study carefully the cultural and religious roots of students to prepare them to work together for the common good.

Father Benoit Riviere, episcopal vicar of Marseilles, pointed out: «The school much teach coexistence among religions. It is the only way the dialogue will lead to the consolidation of one´s own creed.»

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