Muslims join Catholics at mass in show of unity

Muslims joined Catholics at mass in France and Italy, including in Milan's Santa Maria in Caravaggio church. Photo / AP
Muslims joined Catholics at mass in France and Italy, including in Milan's Santa Maria in Caravaggio church. Photo / AP

Muslims have attended Catholic mass in churches around France and Italy in solidarity and sorrow following the brutal jihadist murder of a priest as Pope Francis warned Europe was pushing its young into the hands of extremists.

More than 100 Muslims were among the 2000 faithful who packed the 11th-century Gothic cathedral of Rouen, near the Normandy town where two jihadi teenagers slit the throat of 85-year-old Father Jacques Hamel.

"I thank you in the name of all Christians," Rouen Archbishop Dominique Lebrun told them. "In this way you are affirming that you reject death and violence in the name of God."

In the southern city of Nice, where a jihadist carried out a rampage in a truck on July 14, claiming 84 lives, local imam Otaman Aissaoui led a delegation of Muslims to a Catholic mass. "Being united is a response to the act of horror and barbarism," Aissaoui said.

Notre Dame church in southwestern Bordeaux also welcomed a Muslim delegation, led by the city's top imam, Tareq Oubrou.

"It's an occasion to show [Muslims] that we do not confuse Islam with Islamism, Muslim with jihadist," said Reverend Jean Rouet.

Muslims were responding to a call by the French Muslim council CFCM to show "solidarity and compassion" over the priest's murder last Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Pope Francis said that Islam could not be equated with terrorism and warned Europe was pushing its young into the hands of extremists.

"It's not true and it's not correct [to say] Islam is terrorism," he told journalists aboard the papal plane during the return journey from a trip to Poland.

"I don't think it is right to equate Islam with violence," he said.

Francis defended his decision not to name Islam when condemning the brutal jihadist murder of a Catholic priest in France in the latest of a string of recent attacks in Europe claimed by Isis (Islamic State).

"In almost every religion there is always a small group of fundamentalists. We have them too. If I have to talk about Islamic violence, I have to talk about Christian violence."

He said Europe should look closer to home, saying "terrorism ... grows where the God of money is put first" and "where there are no other options".

"How many of our European young have we left empty of ideals, with no work, so they turn to drugs, to alcohol, and sign up with fundamentalist groups?" he asked.

Two men have been placed under formal investigation over the murder of Father Jacques Hamel, 86, including a cousin of one of the killers.

Farid K, 30, a cousin of attacker Abdel Malik Petitjean, was arrested on suspicion of "terrorist association".

The other man, Jean-Philippe Steven J, 20, was put under formal investigation for allegedly attempting to travel to Syria in June with Petitjean.

Petitjean and accomplice Adel Kermiche, both 19, were shot dead by police.

They had interrupted a church service in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, near Rouen, last Tuesday, taking hostages and slitting the throat of Hamel.

- AFP

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