Christians in Jordan have responded to the Islamic State's gruesome execution of a captured Jordanian pilot with sorrow, calling for prayer and religious and national unity.

Father Rifat Bader, general director of the Jordan-based Catholic Center for Studies and Media, said the Christian churches of Jordan conveyed their "deep sorrow and sadness" over Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh's execution, which Fr. Bader characterized as a "martyrdom" and a "heinous crime against humanity."

He said the churches called for all their bells to be rung at noon on Wednesday, and for special Masses and prayers at 6 p.m.

"The churches will hold prayers as well in the first week of February for harmony among religions, so that religions will constitute a factor conducive for peace, harmony and unity among the people rather than a factor leading to division, killing, oppression and dispute," the priest said in a Feb. 4 statement.

Islamic State militants had captured the 26-year-old pilot in December, when his F-16 crashed in Syria during a U.S.-led air raid on Islamic State forces.

On Tuesday militants released a video of his execution; he was burned alive in a cage.

While the Islamic State had appeared to be negotiating a prisoner release with the Jordanian government in the last week, the execution of the pilot may have taken place as early as Jan. 3.

Many leading Muslim authorities and Arab political leaders have condemned the execution.

Fr. Bader voiced condolences to the pilot's family and tribe. He thanked Jordan's security services for keeping Jordan "as strong as ever in the face of extremism, violence and isolation." He called for national unity under Jordan's King Abdullah II.

"The churches also convey condolences to all humanity which is suffering from extremism, bigotry and terrorism."

The Jordanian government responded to al-Kaseasbeh's death by executing two prisoners linked to al-Qaeda: a woman who was a failed suicide bomber in an attack that killed 60 people in 2005; and a man sentenced to death in 2008 for planning terrorist attacks on Jordanians in Iraq, the Associated Press reports.
The Catholic Center for Studies and Media commented also on Jordan's execution of the terrorists.

Acknowledging that Catholics "don't admit the death penalty as legal in the normal situation," the center said the execution was not "in the same cruel way" as the Islamic State's execution of the al-Kaseasbeh.

The prisoners executed by Jordan were asked about their final wishes and had their bodies placed in the hospital, the Catholic Center for Studies and Media told CNA Feb. 4.

"We hope that this bad event will encourage our Jordanian society to look forward and to plan for more national unity and collaboration for the good of all citizens in the spirit of citizenship and legal equality," the center concluded.