The Imam’s presence at the Pontifical Mass in Victoria on the feast of Santa Marija raised eyebrows, but Gozo Bishop Mario Grech said feedback was “generally” positive.

The initiative to invite Imam Mohammed Elsadi came in the wake of the murder by Islamic extremists of French Roman Catholic priest Fr Jacques Hamel in his church last month.

Mgr Grech told the Times of Malta yesterday many parishioners had approached him afterwards to show appreciation for the initiative, intended as a display of unity between the two religions.

“There were a few who did not understand the significance of the gesture but my aim was to foster education and try and bridge the gap of understanding,” Mgr Grech said, adding this was one way of reducing intolerance.

Parishioners generally appreciated the encounter and expressed surprise at the common roots Christianity shared with Islam, he added. “I also realised we do not have enough knowledge of the Muslim faith.”

In his homily, the Bishop said some people wanted to give certain conflicts a religious tinge, referring to Fr Hamel’s murder and the killing of an Imam and his assistant in New York last Sunday.

I hope this prayer helps us overcome our prejudices and collaborate for peace

“I felt, in these circumstances… I should invite Imam Elsadi so together as Catholics and Muslims, we pray to God for peace,” Mgr Grech told the congregation.

Muslims had great respect for the Holy Mother, he added. “She is the bridge that brings us together… I hope this prayer helps us overcome our prejudices and collaborate for peace.”

Mgr Grech said no religion believed in violence, insisting the real reasons for conflicts around the world lay elsewhere. “There are wars fomented by the financial world, others that are ideological and the actors of these conflicts are not soldiers armed with weapons but people donning a jacket and tie,” he said, adding it was a pity that some of these people called themselves Christian.

Imam Elsadi attended the Mass along with some members of the Muslim community. In his letter of acceptance to Mgr Grech, distributed yesterday, the Imam said Islam was “the first victim” of terrorism perpetrated in its name.

“The terrorists want to make our life hell and stir war among religions. But we will not play into their hands,” the Imam said, calling on God to protect and bless Malta and Gozo.

Fr Hamel had his throat cut when two men stormed into his church during Mass.

Religious leaders in France united in condemnation of the barbaric act, and Muslims attended Mass with Catholics as a sign of solidarity.

This was the first terrorist attack claimed by Islamic State to have targeted a place of Catholic worship, prompting an anti-Islamic backlash in Western societies.