- Associated Press - Sunday, June 29, 2014

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - One of the oldest Catholic churches in St. Paul had to close down because of a dwindling congregation, but it’s been given new life as an Islamic community center.

The Church of St. John parish, built in 1886, closed in 2013. It reopened Friday as the Darul-Uloom Islamic Center, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported (http://bit.ly/1z0o5In ).

“There are a lot of East Africans in the area, and we want to give them a place to worship, a place to be educated, a community space,” center spokesman Feisal M. Elmi said.

The former church held its last Mass in the summer of 2013, and has been vacant ever since. The congregation merged with the one at nearby St. Pascal’s Church.

Charles Lake, a parishioner at St. John for 20 years, said he “felt sick” when he first heard rumors about the parish being sold. But he said he’s glad the building will continue as a house of faith.

“There’s clearly a need in the neighborhood to acknowledge a significantly Muslim population that’s been living here. I look forward to collaborating with them on matters of mutual concern. They’re our neighbors,” he said.

A few changes were made to the building. Christian symbols and furnishings were removed, with most given to other Catholic parishes across the state. A large stone cross above the entryway was taken down.

The new Islamic center sits in the ward of city council President Kathy Lantry, a lifelong parishioner at St. Pascal. She said she was looking forward to welcoming the new center to the neighborhood.

“Faith communities are important to the city of St. Paul. I’m hoping we can all learn about each other’s religions,” Lantry said.

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Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press, http://www.twincities.com

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