Muslims Attend Mass in France to Show Religion Is Based on Peace, Love
The country needed a story of uplift.
Following the murder of a Catholic priest last week by two fanatics, Muslims attended Sunday Mass across France to show their support and sympathy for their fellow countrymen.
It was a display of interfaith solidarity in a divided country, an attempt to stitch and heal national wounds before they fester.
Men and women streamed into churches, sat down in front rows, shook hands and hugged churchgoers, and generally showed their appreciation and admiration for the religion.
Above all, the gatherings were meant to show people that Islam is a religion based on peace and love.
This message is especially urgent following the holy month of Ramadan, which was at times overshadowed by the carnage of ISIS. The terror group also claimed responsibility for attacks in Turkey, Bangladesh, and Baghdad.
Pope Francis reiterated the message of peace in comments he made Monday.
"I do not believe that it is true or right that Islam is terrorist,” the pontiff said.
“If I speak of Islamic violence, I must speak of Catholic violence . . . and no, not all Muslims are violent, not all Catholics are violent. It is like a fruit salad; there’s everything.”
Back in France, Muslims leaders in Italy also called on members to attend mass.
“These people [terrorists] are tainting our religion and it is terrible to know that many people consider all Muslim terrorists,” said Ahmed El Balzai, the imam of the Vobarno mosque in Italy's Lombard province of Brescia. “That is not the case. Religion is one thing. Another is the behavior of Muslims who don't represent us."
France has been rocked by a series of terrorist attacks over the past 18 months that have left hundreds of people dead in music halls and street fairs, sidewalk patios and office buildings.
Each attack has deeply rattled the country and provoked an ever-broader national security response.
Some observers worry that the police response has been overzealous and that the relentless raids on Muslim communities only stoke resentments, deepen divides, and feed terrorist propaganda.
Rather than sit back and let the cultural situation deteriorate further, Muslim leaders in France knew that outreach had to begin and a message of peace had to be spread.
Their efforts were celebrated by both churchgoers and the broader public, which needed a story of uplift following all the grim headlines of late.
Jacqueline Prevot, a Catholic, told ABC News, "Look at this whole Muslim community that attended Mass. I find this very heartwarming."