Cardinal Denies Saying That Vatican Backed Nazareth Mosque Project

Christians in Holy Land Warn of Danger to Archaeological Treasures

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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 26, 2001 ( Vatican is opposed to the controversial mosque being built in Nazareth, regardless of the building´s size, a Vatican aide says.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Commission for Religious Relations with Jews, denied statements attributed to him by the Israeli press. The Rome correspondent of the Ma´aeiv newspaper recently quoted the cardinal as having said the «Vatican agrees to a mosque in Nazareth, but a small one.»

In a note published by the Vatican Press Office, Cardinal Kasper confirms that he never said any such thing, as reflected in his statement at the end of his visit last week to President Moshe Kazav of Israel.

«The construction of a mosque near the Basilica of the Annunciation does not contribute to relations between Christians and Muslims. Should the mosque be large in size, it will become a provocation,» he said.

The mosque is championed by a fundamentalist group that in the past has attacked pilgrims at the very entrance of the basilica.

Associated Press reported today that Christians said the construction could destroy archaeological treasures. Muslim officials in Nazareth, Israel´s largest Arab town, denied the building was doing any harm.

Father Michel Piccirillo, an archaeologist and director of the Franciscan Institute in Jerusalem, said construction crews have hauled away human bones and what appear to be the remains of an early church or ancient synagogue.

Father Piccirillo said he asked the Israel Antiquities Authority to arrange a detailed archaeological examination of the finds, but has received no reply. Officials of Antiquities Authority could not be reached for comment today.

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