For pope, interreligious relations can alleviate the wounds of the Nice attack

In his meeting victims of the terrorist attack in Nice on 14 July and their relatives, Pope Francis encouraged religious groups to entertain fraternal relations and refuse hatred. As a token of the who were killed, the pope received the gift of 86 flowers. Some secularists and environmentalists criticised the meeting. Muslim and Jewish leaders express their appreciation.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis on Saturday received family members of the victims of the Bastille Day (14 July) terror attack in Nice. In his address, he said that when “interreligious relations are very much alive,” they can “help to alleviate the hurt of those dramatic events”.

The pontiff met about 180 people – attack victims and their family – as well as officials of the City of Nice and members of the 'Alpes-Maritimes Fraternité’ interfaith group, including the bishop of Nice, and Jewish, Muslim, Orthodox and Protestant representatives.

For the pope, “establishing a sincere dialogue and fraternal relations among all, particularly among those who confess a God who is one and merciful, is an urgent priority that those in leadership positions, both political and religious, should seek to encourage, and which everyone is called to realise in their own milieu.”

“When the temptation of turning inward, or meeting hatred with hatred and violence with violence is great, true conversion of the heart is necessary. This is the message that the Gospel of Jesus addresses to all of us. We can respond to the assaults of the devil only with the works of God, like forgiveness, love and respect for one’s neighbour, even if he or she is different.”

The pope’s address was preceded by those of Mgr André Marceau, archbishop of Nice, and Mayor Christian Estrosi, who gave the pontiff a basket with “86 flowers, like our [fallen]”, flowers of "many colours, like us" (pictured).

The shared value of inter-religious relations was stressed. The attack by French-Tunisian Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, shouting "Allah akhbar" as he drove a lorry over his victims, was met with praise on Islamic state sites. This attack, along with the series of bombings in France, sparked anti-Islamic demonstrations and aggravated tensions in France’s multicultural society.

In Nice, today's meeting with Pope Francis has been criticised by some “human rights” groups in the name of the country’s separation of state and religion. A green member of the Nice City Council, Juliette Chesnel-Le Roux, described the meeting with the "head of the Catholic Church" as a "provocation" since the victims included people of many other religions.

Conversely, Imam Boubekeur Bekri, vice-president of the Regional Council of the Muslim Faith in southeastern France, who was present in Rome, said that it is right for believers "to come closer to each other." Jewish leaders also expressed a favourable opinion about meeting the Pope.

"I pray to the God of mercy,” the pope said, “for all injured people, some of whom were atrociously mutilated in the flesh or in the spirit, and I cannot forget all those who could not come or who are still in the hospital.”

“The Church remains close to you and accompanies you with immense compassion. With her presence next to you in moments such as these, which are so weighty to face, she asks the Lord to come to your aid and to put in your hearts sentiments of peace and brotherhood."

At the end of the audience, Pope Francis met one by one the people present at the event.