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‘Violence in the name of God is the ultimate contradiction’, Archbishop Coleridge says after French attacks

Terrorism: Police stand near Notre Dame Basilica in Nice, France, Oct. 29, 2020, after at least three people were killed in a series of stabbings before Mass. France raised its alert level to maximum after the attack. 

BRISBANE Archbishop Mark Coleridge has joined church leaders from around the world condemning the killing of three people in southern France – hacked to death in Nice’s Notre Dame Basilica while preparing for morning Mass.

“Violence in the name of God is the ultimate contradiction and is utterly abhorrent, whatever historic injustices are invoked to justify it,” Archbishop Coleridge, who is president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, said.

“What we have seen in Nice can come only from hell, not from heaven.” 

French bishops ordered a “death knell” to ring from every church of their country

Pope Francis sent a tweet expressing closeness to the people of Nice. 

“I pray for the victims, for their families and for the beloved French people, that they may respond to evil with good,” it said.

Archbishop Coleridge also offered prayers for the people of France, “who yet again have seen blood shed in this way, asking God to heal the wounds, banish the spirit of vengeance and lead the nation into a future where difference can enrich, not destroy. 

“Notre Dame de Nice, prie pour la France. Mary Queen of Peace, pray for us all.”

According to French media, the victims included a 70-year-old woman whose body was found by police “almost beheaded” beside a holy water font.

A 45-year-old sacristan, Vincent Loques, a father of two daughters, was found dead in the basilica.

A second woman, described as African in origin and in her 30s, fled the church after she was stabbed, but died in the nearby cafe where she had sought refuge.

Police shot and wounded a man in his 20s who was suspected of the attack, and he was arrested and taken to hospital for treatment.

The suspect was later identified as Brahim Aouissaoui, 21, a Tunisian who entered France via Lampedusa, an Italian island between Malta and Tunisia, at the end of September. 

He arrived in France after he was quarantined by Italian authorities and ordered to leave all Italian territory.

Nice Mayor Christian Estrosi said the attacker “kept shouting Allahu akbar (Arabic for God is great) even after being medicated.” 

The terror attack comes amid mounting anger by Muslims at President Emmanuel Macron’s defense of satirical cartoons of Muhammad, the founder of Islam.

Two hours after the attack, police shot dead a man who was brandishing a handgun and shouting “Allahu akbar” in the southern city of Avignon. 

The same day, a guard at the French consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, was stabbed by a 40-year-old attacker, who was then apprehended.

The night of October 29, Prime Minister Jean Castex was due to meet Bishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort of Reims, president of the bishops’ conference, and Archbishop Michel Aupetit of Paris to discuss security measures needed to guarantee the safety of Catholics, especially in the run-up to All Saints’ Day on November 1.

In a statement posted on the website of the Archdiocese of Paris, Archbishop Aupetit said he was “stunned by this murderous madness in the name of God.”

“God has revealed himself to be a God of love,” he said. 

“Murder in his name is the real one, the only blasphemy, an insult to who he is.

“From the beginning, Christians have been persecuted, and even today it is they who, although they preach and live the love of God and of neighbor together, pay the heaviest price in hatred and barbarism.”

The French bishops said in a statement the attack reminded them of “the martyrdom” of Father Jacques Hamel, a priest hacked to death in his Normandy church by Islamic militants in 2016.

“Through these horrific acts, our entire country is affected,” they said in the statement. 

“This terrorism aims to instill anxiety throughout our society. 

“It is urgent that this gangrene be stopped, as it is urgent that we find the indispensable fraternity which will hold us all upright in the face of these threats.

“Despite the pain gripping them, Catholics refuse to give in to fear and, with the whole nation, want to face this treacherous and blind threat,” the bishops said.

Archbishop Coleridge said “the Mediterranean has always been a place of both encounter and confrontation between peoples, cultures and religions”. 

“At its best, the encounter produces an extraordinary human richness,” he said. 

“At its worst the confrontation produces the attacks we have seen in Nice. 

“Violence in the name of God is the ultimate contradiction and is utterly abhorrent, whatever historic injustices are invoked to justify it. 

“What we have seen in Nice can come only from hell, not from heaven.” 

Bishop Andre Marceau of Nice responded to the attack by ordering the instant closure of all of the churches in the city and declaring them to be under police protection.

He said the dead were “victims of a heinous terrorist act” that followed “the savage murder of Professor Samuel Paty,” a Paris teacher who was beheaded October 16 by a Muslim migrant after he showed satirical cartoons of Muhammad to school children in a lesson about free speech.

The cartoons were first published in 2012 in Charlie Hebdo, a magazine that has since been the target of three terrorist attacks, one of which in 2015 claimed the lives of 12 staff members.

At the Vatican, Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, tweeted in solidarity with the French church, saying extremism “must be fought with strength and determination”.

He said persecuted African Christians understood “too well” that violent Islamists would not give up their struggle.

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