ROME – In cases which suggest the strains of a county navigating the transition from being almost entirely Catholic to a more multi-ethnic and multi-religious society, one Italian school has announced a day off to allow Muslim students to celebrate the end of Ramadan, while another has refused permission for a Catholic priest to offer a traditional Easter blessing.

Inevitably, both incidents have generated national controversy and become the subject of intense political debate.

The school that’s decided to close for the Eid al-Fitr feast marking the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan is located in a community of roughly 40,000 people called Pioltello, located on the eastern edge of Milan. Pioltello has one of the highest concentrations of immigrants in the country, and its Iqbhal Masih school, named for a 12-year-old Pakistani Catholic who was shot to death in 1995 after escaping forced labor, has a student population estimated to be roughly 40 percent Muslim.

Taking advantage of a regulation which allows schools to add three additional days off to the holidays established by regional and national law, the governing council of the school, which included a kindergarten, grade school and middle school, decided to close on April 10, the date set this year for Eid al-Fitr.

Principal Alessandro Fanfoni said the choice was practical, since in years past on the end of Ramadan no more than three or four Muslim students would come to school, making it largely a lost day.

This is believed to be the first time an Italian school has closed in observance of an Islamic feast, and the decision has generated controversy, especially among political and social conservatives such as Matteo Salvini, Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the right-wing anti-immigrant Lega party.

“While some want to remove Catholic symbols, such as crucifixes in classrooms, for fear of giving ‘offense,’ in the Province of Milan a principal has decided to close a school for the end of Ramadan. It’s an unacceptable choice against the values, identity and tradition of our county,” Salvini said on social media.

Italy’s Minister of Instruction, Giuseppe Valditara, also a member of the Lega party, quickly announced that he’s asked for clarification from school officials, and insisted that only the regional and national governments have the authority to add holidays to the school calendar.

The decision to close for the Islamic holy day, however, has drawn support from the Archdiocese of Milan.

Deacon Roberto Pagani, who’s led the archdiocese’s office for ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue since 2013, told the Italian newsmagazine Famiglia Cristiana, “We’re in favor of this gesture.”

“Since Muslims in Italy share and celebrate Christmas and Easter with us Catholics, I find it beautiful that an initiative for interreligious dialogue is starting with a school that’s trying to build bridges between young people who live different faiths at home,” Pagani said.

“If we don’t follow the path of reciprocal awareness and respect, then we become integralists,” he said. “In the Diocese of Milan, we’re working to show respect to persons of other faiths who live in our territory, and who want to dialogue, interact and integrate.”

On Wednesday, Archbishop Mario Delpini of Milan added his own voice to the support, calling the decision to close for the end of Ramadan a “legitimate measure” given that “one of the most important things in life is religion.”

Such sentiments, however, haven’t been enough to deter figures such as the President of the Italian Senate, Ignazio La Russa, a member of the country’s governing conservative coalition, who wondered aloud if schools now also will have to close for Hindu festivals, or Attilio Fontana, President of the Lombardy region in which Milan is located, who said that if schools shut down out of respect for every tradition present in the area, they’d have to close 100 times a year.

On March 18, a far-right group erected a banner at the school reading, “Italian schools, never Muslim: It’s forbidden to close.”

Meanwhile, roughly 200 miles to the south, in a neighborhood of the town of Verghereto, another school made another choice related to the increasing diversity of Italian society – refusing to grant permission for a local priest to enter the school to deliver a traditional blessing in the run-up to Easter.

Father Adolph Wosa of Tanzania, who serves as pastor of the local parish of St. Andrew the Apostle, confirmed the decision after it had first been made public by a local conservative politician.

“I hadn’t yet gone to the school to offer the Easter blessing, but this afternoon I called a teacher to ask the director if I could give the blessing,” he told reporters on Monday.

“She told me no, because it violates the secular nature of the state,” he said.

Wosa said he “won’t give up,” insisting, “I want to be able to bless the school, while respecting students of other religions.”

Daniela Corbi, director of the local school system, defended the refusal to grant permission for the blessing.

“The law is clear: The school is secular, and religious activity is not permitted inside. Easter blessings are a religious activity, so they’re not possible,” she said.

“This isn’t a law that I’m imposing,” Corbi said. “It’s imposed by the law, and I’m obliged to follow it regardless of my personal convictions.” She added, however, that it might be possible to allow a priest to offer blessings on school property after hours to whoever requested it.

The refusal has aroused the indignation of several local leaders, including a former member of the regional government, Luca Bartolini, who’s a member of the Brothers of Italy party of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.

“It’s an incomprehensible choice,” he said. “If there can’t be an Easter blessing in order to guarantee the secular character of the school then why doesn’t the director show up for work also on Christmas day?”

In the end, a compromise was reached: Wosa will be allowed to deliver the blessing after the end of the school day, outside the school, and attendance will be voluntary. Wosa said he was choosing to look on the bright side, that the blessing will be offered after all, while Bartolini said he would have preferred that the blessing be given in class “as it’s always been done, and as happens in so many other schools.”

Signs suggest the issue of Easter blessings in schools will continue to generate controversy. Last year, the mayor of the small central Italian town of Pennabilli, who is a former member of the Lega party, signed a decree authorizing such blessings after the local school director had refused permission.