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In Raincy – an affluent town of around 14,300 people surrounded by Paris’s poor northern suburbs – the local church held a special Mass on Sunday dedicated to the memory of Father Jacques Hamel.
Among the congregation was a smattering of the town’s Muslim community, as well as the imam of the nearby suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois and the president of the local branch of the Regional Council of the Muslim Faith (Conseil Régional du Culte Musulman or CRCM).
“I’ve never seen anything like what’s happening in France during my lifetime here. I arrived here when I was 17 years old, and now I’m 65,” Abderrahmane Bouhout, president of the local CRCM, told FRANCE 24. “We’re hurting. It’s terrible, especially when you think that our religion is one of peace.”
The service was led by Father Frédéric Benoist, who cut short his summer holiday to return to Raincy on Sunday for the event, which he said was important “to channel the community’s emotions”.
“We must not oppose violence with violence, but oppose violence with love,” the priest said during the service.
The Mass was one of many interfaith events held across the country over the weekend in honour of Father Hamel.
Over 300 people turned out for the service – more than twice the number of usual congregants, according to Benoist. Martine Konzelmann, a church organiser and organist, said attendance similarly surged in the wake of other attacks across France over the past 19 months.
“After Charlie Hebdo, the Hyper Cacher supermarket, and the November 13 attacks in Paris, we noticed an influx of people. I don’t know if it’s just curiosity, or if there’s a need,” Konzelmann said.
After the Mass, congregants filed outside of the church’s main entrance where they were joined by members of the Jewish community for an interfaith gathering. The crowd was scattered with people wearing kippas and crosses, as well as at least one woman in a headscarf. At the end of the meeting, over which the mayor of Raincy and a local regional official presided, the group posed for a “family photo”, before singing the national anthem, La Marseillaise.
“It goes without saying that we’d be here. There’s one priority, and it’s to be here at this kind of gathering in order to express our love and solidarity, as well as the fight that we must wage against Daesh, because it is particularly unjustified to attack a man of faith,” Rabhia Benouri, a member of the Muslim community in Raincy, said using an alternative name for the Islamic State group.
Overall, the Mass and subsequent interfaith gathering were a success, according to regular churchgoer Christelle B. (who declined to give her last name). “It was nice. It’s a pleasure to see so many different communities brought together,” she said.
But the young woman, a midwife who moved to Raincy last year, said it was unfortunate that there weren’t more such events.
“This is the first time since I started coming to this church that I’ve seen such a melting pot of different religions and communities. It’s a shame that it only happens under such tragic circumstances,” she said.