[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] French anti-terror police are investigating an attack on a Roman Catholic church in Saint-Etienne du Rouvray this morning, in which the priest was killed and another worshiper seriously injured. The French President, François Hollande, visited the church and said that the Middle Eastern terror group Daesh was behind the attack. This was confirmed by the group itself who described the two perpetrators as its soldiers.
This morning’s attack is the latest in a long list of terror attacks to strike in France, Belgium and Germany in recent months – and one of several to have taken place during the past week.
Two men entered the church through a rear exit at around 10 am CET (8 am GMT) as a small congregation of nuns and others were attending a service of Mass. The two men, armed with knives, attacked the congregation, injuring three worshippers – one seriously – and murdering the priest, 84-year-old Father Jacques Hamel.
Some un-confirmed media reports say that the attackers tried to decapitate the priest. The two attackers were shot and killed by French police who were on the scene quickly. The attack was declared over within an hour of it starting.
After visiting the church this morning, President Hollande said that France would “wage war” on Daesh “by every means possible”; but stressed that France respond lawfully.
The Archbishop of Rouen, Dominique Lebrun, is returning to Normandy from Krakow, where he was attending events linked to the Roman Catholic Church’s World Youth Day. “I cry out to God with all men of good will,” he said. “I would invite non-believers to join in the cry!
“The Catholic Church cannot take weapons other than those of prayer and brotherhood among men. I leave [in Krakow] hundreds of young people who are the future of humanity, the true ones. I ask them not to give into violence and become apostles of the civilisation of love.”
The Bishop-in-Charge of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, Pierre Whalon, responded to the Archbishop’s statement on Twitter, saying: “Amen. This could have been one of ours. . . In fact, it was.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby took to Twitter to express his reaction. He said: “Evil attacks the weakest, denies truth & love, is defeated through Jesus Christ. Pray for France, for victims, for their communities.”
Archbishop David Moxon, director of the Anglican Centre in Rome, said that “the thoughts and prayers of everyone at the Anglican Centre in Rome are with those in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, Archbishop Lebrun of Rouen and His Holiness Pope Francis.”
He continued: “The murder of Father Jacques Hamel in the heart of rural France is profoundly shocking, but the murder of Christians – priests and lay alike – has become common, horribly common, over the past five years.
“The slaughter of so many followers of Christ draws us together. It is, as the Pope has said, an Ecumenism of Blood, which reminds us that whatever our outward differenced may be we are followers of the same crucified and resurrected Lord.”
The Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said that Pope Francis “shares the pain and the horror caused by this absurd violence”; and said that “we are particularly shocked because this horrible violence took place in a church, in which God’s love is announced, with the barbarous killing of a priest and the involvement of the faithful.”