In a gesture of solidarity to the drumbeat of jihadi attacks that threatens to deepen religious divisions across Europe and also the gruesome killing of a French priest, Muslims have flocked to Catholic Mass in churches and cathedrals across France and Italy on Sunday.
A reporter of Associated Press revealed that scores of Muslims gathered at the towering Gothic cathedral in Rouen, only a few miles from Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, where the 85-year-old Rev. Jacques Hamel was killed by two teenage Muslim fanatics on Tuesday.
“We’re very touched,” Archbishop Dominique Lebrun told broadcaster BFMTV. “It’s an important gesture of fraternity . They’ve told us, and I think they’re sincere, that it’s not Islam which killed Jacques Hamel.”
Outside the church, a group of Muslims were applauded when they unfurled a banner: “Love for all. Hate for none.”
Apparently thrilled by their presence, Churchgoer Jacqueline Prevot said that the attendance of Muslims was “a magnificent gesture.”
“Look at this whole Muslim community that attended Mass,” she said.
“I find this very heartwarming,” she said as some of the Muslims were spotted sitting in the front row, across from the altar.
Similar interfaith gatherings were repeated elsewhere in France, as well as in neighboring Italy.
At Paris’ iconic Notre Dame cathedral, Dalil Boubakeur, the rector of the Mosque of Paris, said repeatedly that Muslims want to live in peace.
There were similar scenes in Italy, where the head of Italy’s Union of Islamic communities — Izzedin Elzir — called on his colleagues to “take this historic moment to transform tragedy into a moment of dialogue.”
The secretary general of the country’s Islamic Confederation, Abdullah Cozzolino spoke at the Treasure of St. Gennaro chapel; three imams also attended Mass at the St. Maria Church in Rome’s Trastevere neighborhood, donning their traditional dress as they entered the sanctuary and sat down in the front row.
Ahmed El Balazi, the imam of the Vobarno mosque in Italy’s Lombard province of Brescia, said he did not fear repercussions for speaking out.
“These people are tainting our religion and it is terrible to know that many people consider all Muslim terrorists. That is not the case,” El Balazi said. “Religion is one thing. Another is the behavior of Muslims who don’t represent us.”