PARIS Muslims in several parts of France and Italy attended Catholic masses on Sunday in a gesture of solidarity after the killing of a French priest in Normandy by Islamist militants.
The knife-wielding attackers burst into a Catholic church service in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, western France, on July 26, forced a 85-year-old Roman Catholic priest to his knees and slit his throat. The attack was claimed by Islamic State.
The rector of the Great Mosque of Paris, Dalil Boubakeur, who is also the president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, attended a morning service in Notre-Dame cathedral in central Paris on Sunday.
The Basilica of Saint-Denis, outside Paris, also gathered hundreds of Catholics but also a large number of Muslims and people of other confessions who showed up after religious authorities in France called on the population to express sympathy to the Catholic community.
“I’m very pleased that we invited Muslims. We also share their pain, the pain of all those who suffer, in every way,” Danielle Ludon, a Catholic woman who attended mass, told Reuters.
“The sentiments expressed were very, very strong. Some of them were very poignant,” she said.
Among those who attended the service was a Muslim woman called Hayat, who came with her children and husband.
“This was basically a message of unity, aside from peace, it was really about unity,” she said.
Imams representing their Muslim communities also took part in mass in many Italian cities and towns including Rome’s Santa Maria in Trastevere and Milan’s Santa Maria in Caravaggio.
“Thank you to all those Italians of Islamic religion who direct their communities along the path of courage against fundamentalism,” Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said on Twitter.
Italy, like France, is stepping up supervision of mosques after a wave of attacks in France and Germany.
(Reporting by Matthias Blamont in Paris and Stephen Jewkes in Milan, Italy; Editing by Richard Balmforth)