Pope offers comfort to friends and relatives of Nice attack victims

Pope Francis meets relatives and close friends of the more than 80 victims of the attack in Nice during a special audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican September 24, 2016. REUTERS/Massimiliano Migliorato/CPP
By Steve Scherer | VATICAN CITY

VATICAN CITY Pope Francis on Saturday sought to comfort relatives and close friends of the more than 80 victims of the attack in Nice in July, who were run down by a man driving a truck as they celebrated France’s national day.

The pope began his solemn address by apologizing for not speaking French because he said his was not “bon”.

Then, shifting to Italian, he urged those who were “attacked by the demon” to respond with “forgiveness, love and respect for your neighbor” rather than giving in to the temptation to react with hate and violence.

Among the some 1,000 people who attended the ceremony were members of Nice’s Jewish community and a local Muslim imam.

“It makes me happy to see that inter-religious relations are very vibrant among you, and this cannot but soothe the wounds left by this dramatic event,” Francis said.

Islamic State (IS) militants claimed responsibility for the July 14 Nice attack. Less than two weeks later, IS militants killed an elderly French priest, Father Jacques Hamel, in his church, prompting the pope to declare the “the world is at war”.

But the pope also insisted the war was not a religious one, and that it was wrong to “identify Islam with violence”, suggesting instead that the lack of economic opportunities for young people in Europe was one of the causes of terrorism.

After speaking briefly, the pope descended from the pulpit and spent more than 45 minutes meeting those who attended the ceremony, many of whom were in tears.

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Andrew Bolton)