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Belgium: papal nuncio supports immigrants occupying churches May 10, 2006

The Pope's representative in Brussels has signaled his support for the Belgian bishops' decision to let illegal immigrants occupy Catholic churches.

"The Church has always sided with the weak," Archbishop Karl-Josef Rauber, the apostolic nuncio in Belgium, told De Morgen newspaper.

The nuncio went on to say that the problem posed by illegal immigrants-- thousands of them demanding permission to stay permanently in Belgium-- "requires a political solution." He said that he would not become directly involved with a domestic political issue, but "invites the Belgian bishops to deal with the problem themselves."

Hundreds of undocumented aliens have established quarters in churches around Belgium. Although many Catholic priests have offered "church asylum" to illegal immigrants for the past several years, the number of people lodged in churches has soared in recent weeks.

Conservative leaders in Belgium have objected strongly to the "church asylum" movement, charging that Catholic leaders are aggravating the problems brought on by a massive flow of immigrants, particularly from Islamic countries.

Catholics in Belgium have also voiced serious concerns, particularly after hearing that some churches have been transformed to allow Muslim worship services, with altars removed, statues covered, and banners with Islamic slogans hung in the sanctuaries.

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