Bishops seeking to revive Catholicism are worried by Islam

Pope Benedict XVI

Every day since the Muslim Brotherhood's rise to power, we see new steps towards the Islamisation of the state, he said.

Christians continue to be considered second-class citizens and many of their rights are not recognised.

In a remark that Church leaders interpreted as criticism, a senior Egyptian official has said the Church's many schools and hospitals, which are used mostly by Muslims, gave it a presence in society much bigger than its actual size.

Some extremists demand that we leave the country, the bishop said. We've told them: 'No, this is our country and we're staying'.

In West Africa, where Christianity and Islam are vying for new followers among the many people quitting traditional religions, bishops felt Catholicism had a double disadvantage.

The rapid expansion of Islam and especially the spreading of fundamentalism in West Africa enormously worries the Church, said Bishop Nicodeme Anani Barrigah-Benissan from Togo.

It only takes one day to become Muslim but it is impossible to renounce this religion later, he said. By contrast, he added, it takes at least three years of study for an adult to become a Catholic, and the baptised can leave at will.

Patriarch Gregory III Laham, the Damascus-based head of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, argued that Islam's main teaching - that there is no God but Allah and Mohammad is his prophet - was easier for people to grasp.

Our beautiful Christian faith is too complicated, he said.

Conversion from Islam to another religion is illegal in many Muslim countries, meaning that Christians dedicated to spreading their faith must do so very cautiously, several prelates noted.

Bishop Desfarges reported that some Algerian Muslims had converted to Catholicism. These new disciples are sometimes rejected by their own family or must be very discreet, he said.

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