After political outcry and personal threats, an Italian priest has replaced a Christmas Nativity scene that critics said depicted Mary, the mother of Jesus, with a Muslim body covering.
Father Franco Corbo, a 76-year-old pastor from the southern town of
Potenza, was the subject of a nationwide backlash on TV and social media
and received hundreds of abusive telephone calls at his parish as a
result of his Nativity scene.
The characters, including Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus, were
originally shown in Tuareg costumes worn by tribes from the Sahara
desert but have now been replaced by African figures from Senegal.
In a Facebook post, the leader of the anti-immigrant Northern League,
Matteo Salvini, called the pastor’s actions an act of “madness.”
“The last thing we needed was the ‘Muslim Nativity Scene’ from this
parish priest, 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,” read the post.
But the priest said the Nativity scene reflected the clothing of Tunisia.
“The holy family was wearing Arab costumes to represent cultural openness and send a message of peace to all cultures,” he said.
He reiterated that the figure of Mary was not wearing a burqa.
“The burqa is black and covers the whole body except for the eyes,”
he said. “The statue had a white shawl and a white dress and the face
Corbo said his message had been misinterpreted by the media and
insisted the characters were not Muslim even though they wore
Walls surrounded the Nativity scene and above it the priest included the message “Let’s build bridges, not walls.”
For 50 years Corbo said he had drawn on political themes for his
annual Nativity scene at his parish of Sts. Anne and Joachim in Potenza.
In previous years he has presented characters affected by
earthquakes, environmental disasters and economic exploitation.
he used the Nativity scene to depict the plight of the “desaparecidos,”
those abducted and killed during the dictatorship in Argentina in the
late 1970s and early 1980s.
“There is so much ignorance,” he said. “The Nativity scene is
designed to confront the problems of our time. This year we wanted to
deal with the 65 walls that have been built in the world. The most
scandalous is the wall built by the Israelis to block the Palestinians.
Building walls is easy. Creating dialogue is a little difficult.”