St. Louis statue

"Apotheosis of St. Louis," the statue of King Louis IX of France, is located at the top of Art Hill in Forest Park. File photo: Mike Sherwin 

The Archdiocese of St. Louis issued a statement Sunday opposing the recent effort to remove the statue of the city’s namesake in Forest Park and change the name of the city.

A local Israeli-American restauranteur and a pair of Muslim activists started a petition to change the name of the city and remove the statue of St. Louis because of the 13th century French king’s persecution of Jews and Muslims.

The effort comes as people around the United State push for the removal of statues and monuments of historical figures described by proponents as racist.

“We should not seek to erase history, but recognize and learn from it, while working to create new opportunities for our brothers and sisters,” read the statement from the Archdiocese.

The Catholic organization stated it was “encouraged by the winds of change” to address racism but that “energy of change should be focused on programs and policies that will dismantle racism and create a more equal society.”

Ben Poremba, a native Israeli who owns four local restaurants; Umar Lee, a Muslim activist and writer; and Moji Sidiqi, executive director of the Regional Muslim Activist Network started the Change.org petition, which had more than 900 supporters on Tuesday morning. It also had attracted attention from local and international news organizations.

“St. Louis has a large and vibrant Jewish and Muslim community and it's an outright disrespect for those who are part of these faith communities to have to live in a city named after a man committed to the murder of their co religionists,” reads the petition “I ask all people of good faith committed to the modern values of equity and coexistence to sign this petition to rename the City of St. Louis to something more suitable and indicative of our values.”

The petitioners described Louis, a devoted Catholic who was declared a saint by Pope Boniface VIII in 1297, as anti-Semitic because he ordered the burning of 24 cartloads of manuscripts of the Talmud, the primary text of Jewish religious law and theology. The French king also ordered the expulsion of Jews who kept copies of the Talmud or other banned books, forbade Jews from working in moneylending and ordered Jews to wear distinctive badges, according to Jewishvirtuallibary.org. Louis also led the Seventh Crusade against Muslims in Egypt, during which he was defeated.

The Diocese pointed to Louis’ efforts to feed the poor and minister to lepers.

“For Catholics, St. Louis is an example of an imperfect man who strived to live a life modeled after the life of Jesus Christ. For St. Louisans, he is a model for how we should care for our fellow citizen, and a namesake with whom we should be proud to identify,” the organization stated.

Gateway Pundit, a far-right site with national readership founded by a St. Louisan, also countered the petition by making a “call out to all Catholic and Christian men” join on Saturday afternoon in “public prayer to save the statue.”

The petitioners then organized a counter-protest, and hundreds of people gathered at the statue, with the two sides often engaging in a shouting match.