A parish priest in the south of Italy enraged parishioners by dressing the Virgin Mary in a Muslim burqa for his church’s Christmas Nativity scene, adding a boatful of refugees and a rainbow flag in place of the star of Bethlehem.
The pastor of the parish of Saints Joachim and Anne in Potenza, Father Franco Corbo, found himself face to face with an angry mob of demonstrators gathered outside his church on Wednesday to protest his provocative display.
“Don Franco,” as the priest is known, said that he had the special crèche scene constructed “in the name of dialogue among religions” and that his message had been “misinterpreted.”
Asked whether he didn’t consider his Nativity scene as sacrilegious, the 75-year-old priest said it was not, but rather a symbol that “religion can and should be an instrument of dialogue.”
“Islam is synonymous with peace and brotherhood,” the priest said, adding that Islamic terrorism is “an aberration that has nothing to do with religion.”
Along with Mary’s burqa, the priest represented Saint Joseph as a north African Muslim and dressed a number of the traditional shepherds in Muslim garb as well.
While the Italian media have described the priest as “a good progressive pastor with his heart on the left,” a number of public figures have called out the priest for pushing the envelope too far.
In a Facebook post, the leader of the right-wing Northern League, Matteo Salvini, called the pastor’s actions an act of “madness.”
“The last thing we needed was the ‘Muslim Crèche’ of this parish priest,” Salvini wrote, “for whom ISIS is substantially our fault, the Israelis are ugly and evil, and if you dislike the MADONNA IN A BURQA it is YOUR fault for being closed-minded and a fanatic.”
After Wednesday’s protests, the parish priest has reportedly taken down the controversial crèche scene, replacing the provocative figures with more traditional ones.