01 August 2016, The Tablet

Muslims attend Mass across Europe in solidarity with Catholics mourning death of Fr Hamel

Leaders of the three Abrahamic faiths joined in unity this weekend after the brutal killing in France

Muslims this weekend responded to the call to stand in solidarity with Catholics after a priest was killed last week in his parish near Rouen.

French, Italian and British Muslims attended Mass in their respective countries and joined vigils in remembrance of the life of Fr Jacques Hamel, 86, whose throat was slit by Muslims, Adel Kermiche and Abdel Malik Petitjean. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the brutal attack that took place during Mass on Tuesday morning.

"For me, it is very important to be here today," Mohammed Karabila, President of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray Mosque, told the BBC in Rouen on Sunday.

"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."

Around 50 Muslims had already joined 350 Catholics at a vigil in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray's second church on Saturday night.

"We're very touched," the Archbishop of Rouen, Dominique Lebrun, told the French news channel 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."

French television broadcast scenes of interfaith solidarity from all around France, with Muslim women in headscarves and Jewish men in kippot crowding the front rows of Catholic cathedrals in Lille, Calais and the Basilica of St Denis outside Paris. 

In Italy, churches also welcomed Muslims to Sunday Mass; three imams attended a service at the St Maria Church in Rome's Trastevere neighbourhood. While at Westminster Cathedral in London, Rabbis, Imams and priests gathered for an interfaith vigil on Sunday morning.

Responding to questions from journalists on the papal plane back to Italy from World Youth Day, where the Pope has spent the last five days, Francis insisted that Islam should not be equated with terrorism.

“I do not like to speak of Islamic violence because everyday when I look through the papers, I see violence here in Italy," he said. "And they are baptised Catholics. There are violent Catholics. If I speak of Islamic violence, I also have to speak of Catholic violence.

"One thing is true. I believe that in almost all religions, there is always a small fundamentalist group. We have them, too," the pope said. "When fundamentalism goes to the point of killing - you can even kill with the tongue. This is what St James says, but (you can kill) also with a knife."

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