Cardinal Ruini Assails Ban on Nativity Scenes in Some Schools

In Treviso, the Story of Bethlehem Gave Way to Little Red Riding Hood

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ROME, DEC. 10, 2004 ( The president of the Italian bishops’ conference appealed to his country’s schools not to eliminate Christmas symbols and not to fail to organize traditional Nativity plays and musicals during yuletide.

Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the Pope’s vicar for Rome, made his appeal Wednesday during a news program of Italian Radio and Television (RAI). His comments drew wide attention in the media.

The cardinal intervened after some schools in northern Italy, the area of the country that attracts the greatest number of immigrants, especially Muslims, suspended Christmas plays and other season celebrations. «In no way must such options be accepted,» he insisted.

The province of Vicenza, for example, has launched a competition which will award the most beautiful Nativity scene. However, directors and teachers in some schools refused to allow representations of Jesus’ nativity «out of respect for children of other confessions.»

In a school in Treviso, the director and some teachers decided to replace the Nativity play with the story of Little Red Riding Hood, triggering protests among parents and pupils.

Teachers in a school in Como, when practicing Christmas carols, replaced Jesus’ name («Gesù») with the word virtue («virtù»), which rhymes and which, they contend, does not offend Muslims.

Cardinal Ruini warned: «We do not realize what we are doing. These things might seem trivial, but the spirit is radically mistaken.»

«I take the liberty to ask all Italians not to accept these decisions. They must know that our Christian tradition is a tradition of goodness and truth,» he said.

Several of the controversies, such as that of Como, were resolved by declaring that foreign students have no problem in pronouncing Jesus’ name. Milan’s imam also expressed his opposition to the removal of Jesus’ name from Christmas songs.

In public statements, Cardinal Achille Silvestrini, retired prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Eastern Churches, recalled that Jesus is also honored by Muslims.

Naples, a city known for its Nativity markets, addressed the problem in its own way. This year, the figurines around the crib have Arab, Asian and African features so that no one feels excluded from Christmas.

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