(RNS) Latin American and Middle Eastern politicians and religious leaders gathered on Monday (Sept. 25) in Buenos Aires with more than 1,000 spectators to mark the opening of Latin America's largest mosque and Muslim community center.

"In Argentina, we feel proud that ethnic and religious differences do not divide us but rather bear the fruit of a richer society," said Argentine President Fernando de la Rua, according to Reuters news agency. He said he hoped the King Fahd Islamic Cultural Center would help bring together the people of Argentina, where some 500,000 practicing Muslims live.

Rua's Roman Catholic predecessor Carlos Menem, the son of Syrian Muslim immigrants, donated the 7 1/2 acres of land upon which the 390,000-square-foot cultural center stands.

The 1,500-person capacity building which was nearly two years in the making cost $22 million, a price tag was covered by the king of Saudi Arabia under a $20 billion mosque construction and restoration program that has produced more than 200 Islamic centers and 1,500 mosques worldwide.

In addition to a sports complex and dormitories, the Buenos Aires building contains an exhibit auditorium, a primary and secondary school, and a cafe.

Five years ago then-senator de la Rua was one of many outspoken critics of the center. Some feared the center could lead to an attack similar to one in in the early 1990s, when a bomb detonated at a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires.

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