A group of Muslim volunteers brought together religious communities in the wake of the attack in Nice.
Rabat – A group of young French Muslims volunteered to stand guard at a Catholic church in Lodeve, France. Following the attack on churchgoers in Nice, the young volunteers decided to provide a symbol of solidarity to their fellow citizens by guarding the local cathedral during the Catholic All Saints holiday weekend.
Act of solidarity
The youngsters aimed to set an example of solidarity and mutual respect, according to local news reporting. The group first formed spontaneously on Thursday evening and returned on Sunday, when Catholics hold mass. “The government must absolutely protect these places and support initiatives like ours,” said volunteer organizer Elyazid Benferhat.
Another volunteer, Rayan Donnat, saw the symbolic gesture as a step towards much-needed mutual understanding in France. “We need to get moving before it’s too late and the fracture is too big,” Donnat told television channel France 3.
Local parishioners warmly received the gesture. “It is a sign of brotherhood, it shows that we are all together, beyond anything that can scare us, there are links that are stronger,” local Catholic priest Camille stated. “It’s very touching,” a local man told local reporters.
“It shows that we are all in the same union,” an interviewed local woman said.” These young people of Muslim faith are just as affected as we are by what is happening at the moment, well done to them!” The young volunteers in Lodeve saw fellow acts of solidarity in Toulouse, where local imams and their families attended the All Saints mass in the local church.
The symbolic act of solidarity outside the 13th century church was a response to growing tensions between France’s religious and secular communities. “In recent years, I’ve had a pit in my stomach,” volunteer Benferhat told the Associated Press. He has an Algerian mother but considers himself to be French, “but I am also Muslim … and we have seen Islamophobia in this country, and terrorism,” he said.
Benferhat coaches a local soccer team and works for French oil company Total. After the shocking violence in Nice he spoke to a friend who lives in the city. “We had this idea. We needed to do something beyond paying homage to the victims. We said, we will protect churches ourselves.”
The heartwarming gesture instantly brought together the local Muslim and Christian communities. Luis Iniguez, the cathedral’s priest, proudly displayed a newspaper showing a photo of the young men posing with Catholic priests inside the church. “People were happy to see that,” Iniguez told the AP.
The young Muslims who volunteers at the church set an example of communal solidarity that they hope will spread across France. With the Christian holiday of Christmas approaching they hope to repeat the gesture and see others follow their example.