- Title: ALGERIA: Algerian government hails religious freedom at restored church
- Date: 17th December 2010
- Summary: WOMEN IN VEILS IN CONGREGATION
- Embargoed: 1st January 2011 12:00
- Location: Algeria, Algeria
- Country: Algeria
- Topics: Domestic Politics,Religion
- Reuters ID: LVACHKSOJFG5KXFYMYP745VPOH3O
- Story Text: As the Notre Dame d'Afrique, a church built by French settlers in mainly Muslim Algeria, is given a five-million-euro facelift, government ministers get behind freedom of religion.
The Notre Dame d'Afrique church has been a symbol of religious tolerance looking down over the Algerian capital for more than a century.
An inscription running around the inside of its sandstone dome reads: "Our Lady of Africa, pray for us, and for the Muslims."
But for several years visitors have had to contend with closures and scaffolding, as authorities ploughed on with a extensive refurbishment programme.
Now the face lift is finally complete. In a ceremony marking the church's official re-opening on Monday (December 13), lead windows had been relined and a blue-and-white frieze running around the outside of the church was looking refreshed.
The Notre Dame d'Afrique church was built by French settlers in the late nineteenth century and since 2006 has been undergoing a 5-million-euro restoration paid for by Algiers city government, the European Union and donors in Algeria and France.
Algeria is emerging from a nearly two-decade-long Islamist insurgency, but Algeria's Catholic community has maintained a presence -- even though several Christian clergymen have been among hundreds of thousands killed in the violence.
"Algeria ensures coexistence between religions, and guarantees freedom of religious practice in Algeria, whatever the religion of the person -- under the condition that he respects the law, whether he is a Muslim or a non-Muslim," Religious Affairs Minister Bouabdellah Ghlamallah told reporters after the ceremony.
"All people have full freedom to practice their religion, and we held a full forum, and we invited people from various sides, and they have all noted that Algeria has the freedom of religious practice," he said.
Some human rights groups have questioned the commitment of the government in Algeria, a French colony until independence in 1962, to religious tolerance.
The constitution of Algeria, the birthplace of St. Augustine, allows freedom of conscience but a 2006 law strictly regulates how religions can be practiced and forbids attempts to convert Muslims.
Missionary groups say the number of Christians in Algeria is on the rise -- boosted by proselytising in the north of the country -- although no official figures exist.
"The Christian missionary campaign is a deceitful campaign, and aims to take people away from their religion for various reasons, for political or racist reasons," said Ghlamallah.
Local media reported this week that a court gave suspended prison sentences to four Algerian Protestants after it found them guilty of opening a non-Muslim place of worship without government permission.
Officials have said the four were prosecuted because they failed to respect the law, not because of their faith.
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