Nearly 5,000 people have signed a petition protesting a proposal to turn a Catholic hospital chapel into a Muslim prayer room.
The chapel of St Raphael at North Manchester General Hospital has been open for 15 years and is one of several facilities serving different faiths.
However, the Catholic Herald reports that the hospital chaplaincy has sent a letter to local Catholic parishes warning that it faces closure and conversion:
“We write to inform you of a proposal by the spiritual care chaplaincy Team at North Manchester General Hospital to close the Roman Catholic Chapel of St Raphael in order to convert it into a Muslim prayer room.
“Worship spaces are going to be provided for Muslims, Jews, and Protestant Christians, and even a ‘Quiet Room’ for people of no faith at all. Yet it is proposed that Catholics should have no space of their own.
“St Raphael’s chapel contains the Blessed Sacrament and Mass is celebrated weekly. It is well used and highly valued by patients, staff and visitors at the hospital.”
Fr Ged Murphy, who started the online petition protesting the plan, said that people get “great comfort” at the chapel and that other faiths use it.
“It is used during the week for Mass. We are not against the Muslim community having a prayer room, but don’t see the sense in taking away a chapel that is serving one community to serve another,” he added.
So far nearly 5,000 people have signed the petition aimed at Pennine Acute Hospitals Trust, but the Rev John Hall – the Trust’s chaplaincy coordinator – said there were “no plans” to close the Catholic chapel.
He added, however, that they were “currently looking at how [the chapels and prayer rooms] are used so that we have the best possible arrangements that meet everyone’s needs.”
Two Muslim prayer rooms already exist at the hospital, but the men’s prayer room does not have washing facilities.
A hospital spokesman confirmed to the Manchester Evening News that one proposal was to close St Raphael’s and turn it into a Muslim prayer room.
Local councillor Pat Karney said: “I am very disturbed to hear of these plans. Thousands of catholic families in north Manchester including my own have used this mini chapel. I will be meeting with the hospital bosses to clarify their intentions.”