After priest's murder, Muslims join French and Italian Catholics at mass

After the murder of a French priest Tuesday by attackers who pledged allegiance to the so-called Islamic state, Muslims joined Catholics throughout Europe to celebrate mass Sunday. 

Francois Mori/AP
A Catholic worships at Saint Therese church in memory of Priest Jacques Hamel, in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, Normandy, France, Friday, July 29, 2016. On Sunday, muslims attended mass with catholics across Europe in solidarity.

Muslims in France and Italy joined Catholics to celebrate Mass following the murder of a priest earlier this week by two young men who claimed allegiance to the self-described Islamic State.

Between 100 and 200 Muslims joined 2,000 worshipers at the Gothic cathedral in Rouen, a city just a few miles from Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray, where on Tuesday two Islamist militants killed 85-year-old priest Jacques Hamel.

"We’re very touched," Archbishop Dominique Lebrun told broadcaster BFMTV, as the Associated Press reported. "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."

During the sign of peace, a part of the Roman Catholic Mass, Muslims and Catholics in attendance embraced each other, Agence France-Presse reported. Archbishop Lebrun went into the congregation to greet Muslim leaders in attendance, as well as three nuns who were at the Mass where Hamel was killed.  

There had been concerns of religious tensions after Hamel's murder, one of a string recent attacks including one in Nice on July 14 that claimed 84 lives.

The jihadists had aimed to "set the French people against each other, attack religion in order to start a war of religions," as Prime Minister Manuel Valls said. ISIS and other jihad groups aimed to attack areas where Muslims lived in peace with other religious groups with the goal of making it impossible for them to live in peace, encouraging the Muslim community to join the jihadists. 

France's 5 million Muslims are part of the country and must be respected, Valls said, discouraging discrimination against the community. 

"Islam has found its place in France... contrary to the repeated attacks of populists on the right and far-right," he said.

Dalil Boubakeur, a leader of France's Muslim community, called the attack a "blasphemous sacrilege which goes against all the teachings of our religion." 

"The situation is serious," he said. "Time has come to come together so as not to be divided."

Outside the church, a group of Muslims were applauding for holding a banner reading "Love for all. Hate for none."

Representatives of the Muslim community also attended Sunday Mass in Italy. 

Abdullah Cozzolino, the secretary general of the country’s Islamic Confederation, said there was a "need of dialogue, more affirmation of shared values of peace, of solidarity, of love, out of respect for our one God, merciful and compassionate."

In Lyon, in southeastern Italy, a "brotherhood march" brought together Muslims and Catholics holding banners reading "This is not a religious war" and "We are all brothers and sisters".

"We think it is crucial to leave no room for resignation, resentment or fear, and to take a stand for togetherness," Abdelkader Bendidi, a local Muslim leader, said. 

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