Greek Orthodox church softens stance on Muslim prayer sites

Athens, Greece - The Orthodox Church in Greece on Thursday unexpectedly reversed a long-standing attitude of suspicion toward Muslim prayer sites, announcing support for the creation of both a Muslim cemetery and a mosque in Athens.

"[We have] decided to provide land for a Muslim cemetery, respecting the needs of these people," the Holy Synod, governing body of the Orthodox Church of Greece, said in a statement.

"This is dictated by the preachings of our church, namely to show our love and succor to all people, who are God's creatures, without discrimination," the synod said.

Athens currently has no cemetery or mosque for its Muslim community of several thousands, originating from a variety of Asian and African countries.

The only registered cemeteries and mosques are located in Thrace, northeastern Greece, where a 100,000-strong Muslim minority of Turkish origin lives.

The church said that the new facility is to be created in Schisto, a depressed district west of Athens.

Archbishop Christodoulos, head of the Orthodox Church of Greece, on Thursday also expressed support for the creation of a mosque in the Athens area, a project long delayed by church opposition.

Originally approved by the Greek parliament in 2000, plans for a mosque are vehemently opposed by the local authorities of Peania, the community east of Athens earmarked to host the building.

Muslim communities have also criticized the Peania project, noting that such a mosque would be located some 30 kilometers (19 miles) from Athens, where most of the capital's Muslim faithful live.