Muslims on Sunday attended Catholic Mass in churches and cathedrals across France and Italy. These Muslims prayed with the Catholics in solidarity following the gruesome murder of a French priest last week. They were responding to a call by the French Muslim Council (CFCM) to show their “solidarity and compassion.” Over 100 Muslims were present in the congregation of around 2,000 believers at the Cathedral of Rouen near the Normandy town where Father Jacques Hamel’s throat was slit open by two teenage Muslims.
“I thank you (Muslims) in the name of all Christians. In this way you are affirming that you reject death and violence in the name of God,” Rouen Archbishop Dominique Lebrun addressed the congregation. After the service, he expressed that he is pleased and moved by the presence of Muslims and thought it was courageous of them to make it to Mass.
Many of the 100 odd Muslims who attended were from the Ahmadiyya sect of Muslims. This minority sect disregards Muhammad as the final prophet and the proponent of the religion. Some of them were seated across the altar, in the front row. One of the nuns who was held hostage by the attackers after the priest was killed, was also present at the Mass. She shook hands with the Muslims, along with the other attendees after the service.
Jaqueline Prevot, who was also present at the Mass, spoke about what it meant.
“The attendance of Muslims is a magnificent gesture. I find this very heartwarming; I am confident. I say to myself that this assassination won’t be lost, that it will maybe relaunch us better than politics can do; maybe we will react in a better way.”
Apart from this Mass, there were other similar gatherings in France and its neighboring country of Italy. In the French city of Nice, the city’s top imam, Otman Aissaoui, led a delegation of Muslims to a Catholic Mass.
“Being united is a response to the act of horror and barbarism,” he said. In the city of Bordeaux, the Notre Dame church saw a congregation of Muslims led by the city’s top imam, Tareq Oubrou.
In Italy, Ahmed El Balzai, the imam of the Vobarno mosque in the Lombard province of Brescia, gave his thoughts on the matter.
“I am not afraid…. These people are tainting our religion and it is terrible to know that many people consider all Muslim terrorists. That is not the case. Religion is one thing. Another is the behavior of Muslims who don’t represent us.”
At the Treasure of St. Gennaro chapel next to Naples’ Duomo cathedral, the Secretary General of the country’s Islamic Confederation, Abdullah Cozzolino, spoke to another meeting where Muslims attended Mass with the Catholics. Three other imams also attended Mass at the St. Maria Church in Rome’s Trastevere neighborhood. The Foreign Minister of Italy, Paolo Gentiloni thanked the Muslims for their participation.
On Sunday, France’s Prime Minister Manuel Valls, called for a new “pact.”
“Islam has found its place in France, contrary to the repeated attacks of populists on the right and far-right. This intolerable rejection of Islam and Muslims,” he said. Furthermore, dozens of prominent Muslims in the country, which incidentally has the highest population of Muslims — 5 million — in Europe, signed a joint letter pledging: “We, French and Muslim, are ready to assume our responsibilities.”
Recalling the unfortunate and gruesome death of the French priest, Father Jacques Hamel was assassinated by 19-year-old attackers Adel Kermiche and Abdel Malik Petitjean as he conducted Mass at a church in France. The two teenagers, linked to ISIS, took several nuns and worshippers hostage. One nun had managed to escape and alert the cops, and thereby averting more killings. Prime Minister Valls was justifiably horrified by the “barbaric” attack.
[Photo by Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images]