[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] A scheduled Chrism Mass at the Diocese in Europe’s pro-cathedral in Brussels went ahead this afternoon in an “act of defiance” against the terrorists who killed at least 34 people and injured 198 more in a series of bomb attacks in the city’s airport and a metro station.
The Ven Colin Williams, the diocese’s first full time archdeacon, with responsibilities for the Archdeaconry of the East, and for the Archdeaconry of Germany and Northern Europe, was the preacher at the service and arrived in the city just before the explosion at the Maelbeek Metro station.
He said: “Just as I arrived in Brussels the city closed around me and a bomb exploded in the Metro. I was in Brussels to preach at the annual Chrism Eucharist at which clergy and lay ministers renew their commitment to service and Holy Oils are blessed.
“I made my way on foot to the pro-cathedral and the service went ahead with depleted numbers – colleagues from Copenhagen, Helsinki and other places couldn’t get to Brussels.
“Sirens sounded and helicopters hovered overhead. Going ahead with the service felt like an act of defiance; and as the Eucharist began we lit candles to show again that the Light has come into the world and the darkness cannot overcome it.”
Amongst those unable to attend the service was the Diocese in Europe’s communications officer, the Revd Paul Needle. He was on his way to Brussels on a Eurostar train from London. The train was stopped outside Brussels because officials in the Belgian capital closed down all public transport stations.
He says that the train and its passengers were subjected to a full security search at Lille before being sent back to London.
Two explosions rocked Brussels Zaventem airport at 8 am CET (7 am GMT) this morning. US officials have reportedly stated that one of these was a suitcase bomb. Other reports say that one of the explosions was caused by a suicide-bomber. The bombs went off in the check-in area. Officials say that 14 people were killed and 92 injured as a result of those explosions.
Within an hour, a third explosion rocked the Maelbeek Metro station on the Rue de la Loi (Street of the Law) – in the area that houses the major European Union institutions headquarters. The station is within a few hundred metres of the headquarters of the European Commission and European Council and a short walk from the European Parliament’s Brussels building. Authorities say that 20 people were killed here and 106 injured – 17 of them seriously.
This afternoon, the terror group Daesh claimed responsibility for the attacks.
“In the great Holy Week of Christian prayer and mercy, the Brussels attacks shock all those who seek peace and justice through the terrible cruelty and utter separation from all that is of God,” the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said. “Once again we see the contrast between the vain efforts to terrify through indiscriminate murder, and the call of God to be those who show mercy, who seek peace and pursue it.”
Archbishop Welby, who said that he was “deeply shocked by the cruel attacks”, called on Anglicans to “pray for those caught up in the traumatic events at the airport and in the City of Brussels” during every service this week.
Similar responses came from other church leaders. Church of England priest the Revd George Lane is co-ordinating chaplain at Manchester Airport in the north west of England, and president of the International Association of Civil Aviation Chaplains. He posted on his chaplaincy’s Facebook page: “Whatever is happening there, God strengthen the hands of those who are doing good, helping the injured and frightened, defending others from harm – including, of course, our chaplaincy colleagues at Brussels.”
The Archbishop of Dublin, the Most Revd Dr Michael Jackson, expressed his “sorrow and solidarity” with the people of Belgium and with “all who have suffered and all who mourn the death of those dear to them” and well as his “concern for members of the emergency services who experience horror and trauma as part of their commitment to service in their work.”
In a statement, he said: “Brussels, as we all know, is home to people from all over the world and many Irish people will know the city well and identify with its citizens as they come to terms with what is happening there today.
“As we travel through Holy Week towards Easter and the Resurrection, a time of sorrow and suffering followed by a time of hope, let us pray that there can be an end to such terror attacks and hope for a future in which peace and security will prevail over violence and destruction and the loss of human life.”
The ecumenical group the Conference of European Churches (CEC) issues a statement in response to the attacks, in which they said that they grieve the loss of live and disruption of peace. “We condemn the violent attacks and urge for peaceful responses in the hours and days that follow,” they said. “We pray for those who have lost their lives, their families and communities, and for the people who risk their own safety for the sake of helping others.”
Father Heikki Huttunen, of the Orthodox Church of Finland serves as General Secretary of the CEC. He said: “In this season of Lent and Holy Week, we lament such outbursts of violence. As we heal together as inhabitants of Brussels and Europe – and brothers and sisters in humanity – we need to find our way anew, and must all contribute to building societies where everyone feels secure and partakes of the common good.”
The general secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Revd Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, described the bombings as a “terrible attack on innocent people at the heart of Europe.” He said that his “prayers and thoughts are with the victims and their families.”