A Catholic church in St. Paul, Minnesota, that closed last year has reopened its doors as a mosque.
The 127-year-old Church of St. John closed in 2013 when it merged with another church due to declining membership. Last Friday the building reopened as Darul-Uloom Islamic Center.
"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 told The Associated Press.
According to a Pioneer Press story detailing the church's closure last year, "St. John once had 1,400 members. It now has 152 families, or about 400 members, [the Rev. George Welzbacher, 86] said."
The elderly Welzbacher said last year that logistically, the end of St. John's was inevitable.
"The number of priests active ... is limited," said Welzbacher. "Some of the big parishes have thousands of families and need that manpower."
Former church member Charles Lake described feeling "sick" when he heard the news that his former church, empty since last summer, was being sold, but noted that he was not relieved that another religious community would be able to use it.
"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.
Thousands of Somalis live in Minnesota and St. Paul, the highest concentration in the United States.
Earlier this year, the first Somali-American woman joined the St. Paul Police Department, amidst controversy over the department's decision to allow her wear a police-issued hijab.
In April, The Christian Post also reported that six crosses were being removed from the Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Syracuse, New York, as part of a reconstruction effort to convert the building into a mosque. The former church was once given landmark status because it was built by German immigrants over a century ago.
The Syracuse Historic Preservation Board voted to give the North Side Learning Center, an organization largely comprised of Muslims, permission to remove the crosses.
Yusuf Soule, volunteer executive director with the North Side Learning Center, told CP in a previous interview that their intention is to turn the former church into a "masjid" or mosque.
"As it is going to become a masjid, crosses are not an appropriate representation of the religion of Islam," said Soule.