Following the murder of Fr. Jacques Hamel by terrorists who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, Muslims across France and Italy attended Mass on Sunday in a show of solidarity with Catholics.
“We’re very touched. It’s an important gesture of fraternity,” Archbishop Dominique Lebrun of Rouen told a French television station July 31, the BBC reported.
“They’ve told us, and I think they’re sincere, that it’s not Islam which killed Jacques Hamel.”
The initiative was created by the French Center for Muslim Worship, which was joined by the Italian Muslim Religious Community.
“We want to say no to this new racism,” a Catholic who attended a Mass along with several imams at the Roman minor basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere told CNA. “We are not afraid … we are here because we are all brothers, as Jesus teaches us.”
Fr. Hamel was killed July 26 by two Islamic State terrorists while saying Mass in Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray, a suburb of Rouen. The assailants took hostages, and were themselves shot dead by police.
Mohammed Karabila, head of Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray’s mosque, was among those who attended Mass on Sunday. He said that “for me, it is very important to be here today. It should be shown physically, because until now the Muslim community did a lot of things that were not seen.”
“Today we wanted to show physically, by kissing the family of Jacques Hamel, by kissing His Grace Lebrun in front of everybody, so they know that the two communities are united.”
The murder of Fr. Hamel, as well as other recent Islamist attacks in France and elsewhere in Europe, have led to calls to boost mainstream Islam and to counter radicalization.
Manuel Valls, the French prime minister, has said the state should avoid “paternalism” toward Islam, but that “there is an urgent need to help Islam in France to rid itself of those who are undermining it from the inside.”
He added that “if Islam doesn’t help the Republic to fight those who challenge public freedoms, it will get harder for the Republic to guarantee this freedom of worship.”
Recent estimates suggest that Muslims constitute between seven and nine percent of France’s population; and many French immigrants are Muslim.
There have been concerns that Muslim immigrants are not well integrated into France’s mainstream culture, where laïcité, a strict form of public secularism, has been official government policy since 1905.
Veronica Giacometti contributed to this report.