For nearly 70 years, Christians and Muslims have met every end of July in the small town of Vieux-Marché (Côtes d'Armor), for the forgiveness of the Seven Saints, where times of exchanges and prayers are punctuated by fest-noz, couscous and pancake-sausage.
Sitting under a tent set up for the weekend, Brahim and Andrée have just met: "He helps me revise my Arabic", rejoices the Breton retiree, launching "murajaea" (exam in Arabic).
"I've been coming since 1963-64, I'm probably the oldest in the assembly today," she observes.
For his part, this is a first for Brahim, of the Muslim faith: "I've been hearing about this Breton forgiveness for years, for years that I want to come to it. We haven't stopped talking since this morning with the Christians, people are smiling, welcoming, happy to see us. "
At the origin of this pardon, the French Islamologist Louis Massignon (1883-1962) had the idea of organizing this Islamo-Christian pilgrimage in 1953. While attending the pardon of the Old Market, he had been intrigued by the words of an old Breton hymn whose verses were very similar to part of sura XVIII of the Koran ("People of the cave"), recounting the story of the seven martyrs of Ephesus , immured alive and resuscitated.
In its early days, forgiveness attracted mostly Muslim intellectuals from Paris. But for several years, and in particular the various attacks that have affected France, local Muslims have also joined in the festivities.
"In Lannion, there is a community of 300 to 400 individuals who frequent places of worship and it is some of them who participate in this event", specifies the imam of Lannion, Mehand Iheddadene.
After the assassination of Father Jacques Hamel in 2016 in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray by two radical Islamists, the Muslim community of Lannion was "so shocked by what happened that it (had) wanted to get closer to the Catholic community of Lannion", testifies Gersende de Villeneuve, member of the ESPOIRS collective, co-organizer of the event.
"Finally, from a tragedy was born a very beautiful adventure!", She underlines.
The forgiveness takes place over three days with the highlight being Sunday, when there is a Catholic mass in the chapel of the town, followed by a walk of a hundred meters to the "stele of peace" which represents non-believer time and finally Muslim time at the fountain, in the heart of the forest.
Under the marquee, large pots of couscous await the hundred participants, who will continue to exchange informally.
“Muslims have helped me to be Christians,” confides Msgr. Pascal Gollnisch, pardoner of this edition. “I think it is important to support efforts where Christians, Muslims and non-believers meet in the same place and are able to listen to each other and share common values”, adds the one who is also director general of the Work of the East.
For this edition, the theme of "water" was chosen. Under the Breton rain, this subject inspires Bishop Gollnisch: “It touches Christians and Muslims, who see in water a creation of God that must be respected, but it also speaks to agnostics who are aware of the lack of water. We are very aware of having to act together.”
For many, the forgiveness of the Sept-Saints is an essential moment for good understanding between the different religions: "Already only by making efforts, the path is still long so if we stop initiatives like this forgiveness, it will be the end", according to Ahmed Hassini, chaplain at the prison of Saint-Malo.
"We must continue with the hope that at one time or another there will be a click, because as long as we stigmatize people, the speech will not be enough. We really need to know each other", he continues.
The Editorial Board (with AFP)