ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE: Pope Francis said 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 on Sunday.
“I don’t think it is right to equate Islam with violence,” he said.
Pope 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 the Islamic State (IS) group.
“In almost every religion there is always a small group of fundamentalists. We have them too,” he said.
“If I have to talk about Islamic violence I have to talk about Christian violence. Every day in the newspapers I see violence in Italy, someone kills his girlfriend, another kills his mother-in-law, and these are baptized Catholics,” he said.
The Pontiff was speaking after Muslims attended Mass in churches around France on Sunday in solidarity and sorrow following the murder of the priest, whose throat was slit at the altar of his church.
In an echo of remarks made during his five-day trip to Poland for a Catholic youth festival, Francis said religion was not the driving force behind the violence.
“You can kill with the tongue as well as the knife,” he said, in an apparent reference to a rise in populist parties fuelling racism and xenophobia.
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.
Muslims show solidarity
More than 100 Muslims were among the 2,000 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,” he said.
A few policemen and soldiers stood guard outside but did not conduct searches, seeking to reassure a jittery population after the second jihadist attack in less than a fortnight.
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 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.