Muslims in France and Italy flocked to Mass on Sunday, a gesture of interfaith solidarity following a drumbeat of jihadi attacks that threatens to deepen religious divisions across Europe.
From the towering Gothic cathedral in Rouen, only a few miles from where 85-year-old Rev. Jacques Hamel was killed Tuesday by two Muslim fanatics, to Paris' iconic Notre Dame, where the rector of the Mosque of Paris invoked a papal benediction in Latin, many churchgoers were cheered by the Muslims in their midst… 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 or the Basilica of St. Denis, the traditional resting place of French royalty.
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."
Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni thanked Italian Muslims for their participation, saying they "are showing their communities the way of courage against fundamentalism."
France and Italy are both increasing their supervision of mosques after the spate of jihadi attacks, including Tuesday's attack in France and the July 14 atrocity in Nice in which a Muslim truck driver plowed through a crowd of revelers, killing 84 people. Both attacks were claimed by the Islamic State group.
Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano told the Senate this week that authorities were scrutinizing mosque financing and working with the Islamic community to ensure that imams study in Italy, preach in Italian and are aware of Italy's legal structuring.
Source: Associated Press