France is rocked again by a terrorist attack. Coming on the heels of the attack in Nice earlier this month, which killed 84 people, this attack is unique in that a Catholic church was targeted.
The only victim of the attack was Catholic priest Jacques Hamel. Hamel was 85 years old and an auxiliary priest who was standing in while the primary priest was on vacation. On Tuesday morning, two men with knives stormed the small church in a small village in Normandy, France. According to a report by The New York Times, two nuns and three worshipers were held hostage during the attack. The Islamic State has claimed the two men were their “soldiers,” and French President has also publicly blamed this group for the attack.
One other person was critically wounded, but the police were able to kill the two attackers before anyone else was harmed. The parish priest, Father Moanda-Phuati, said of Hamel, “He could have retired at 75, but seeing how few priests were around he decided to stay and work, to continue to be of service to people, up until it all ended tragically.” Moana-Phuati also commented on the slain priest’s nature, “He was loved by all. He was a little like a grandfather. We were happy when he was around and worried when we hadn’t seen him in a while.”
This new attack brings to light a growing fear for the church’s safety in France. In 2015, authorities arrested a Sid Ahmed Ghlam, a 24-year-old Algerian who was studying computer science. According to NYT, Ghlam “had been ordered by Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Belgian militant who went on to help organize the November attacks on Paris, to open fire on a church in Villejuif, according to a report by French antiterrorism police, but the attack was not carried out.” Ghlam’s attack was foiled, but put France on high alert when it took into consideration the approximately 45,000 Catholic churches within its borders.
Archbishop Lebrun has weighed in on the attack by saying, “The Catholic Church has only prayer and brotherhood among men as its weapons…I leave here hundreds of young people who are truly the future of humanity. I ask them not to give in to the violence, and to become apostles of the civilization of love.”
A handful of other religious groups have also made comments on the attacks, including the French Council of the Muslim Faith, whose leader, Dalil Boubakeur, labeled the attack “barbaric and criminal” and admonished Muslims to “stand together behind the government to defend France and its institutions.”
French leaders are right to be concerned about this attack, which was so pointedly targeted at the church. The Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions said that the attack “marks a new stage in the spread of terrorism in France.”
As we remember a man of the cloth who stuck to his post and gave the ultimate sacrifice for his faith, let us also pray for the French leaders who are left with the daunting task of defending their citizens in an age of terror.