Update: the attackers are confirmed to have been Daesh terrorists.
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I was horrified to hear about the hostage situation in the church of Saint Etienne de Rouvray near Rouen, about an hour’s drive from my home. By now, there will be news articles all over the internet. Two attackers seriously wounded members of the tiny congregation at the weekday Mass and barbarously killed the 84-year old priest celebrating the Mass. The two attackers were then shot dead by the police.
I can hear the radio as I write, and there is no confirmation yet about the motive, but a religious motive is preferred over the acts of people with mental problems (there is a psychiatric hospital next to the church).
Such a barbarous attack leaves me without words, whether committed by persons with motives of revenge or Islamist ideology. I suppose the police had no alternative to killing the two attackers, otherwise some information could have been extracted in a soundproof cell with the judicious use of a carving knife and a pair of pliers! They took the priest and tiny congregation as hostages, so logically would have tried to obtain something.
What do we do? Support political movements which would advocate a tough line like Le Pen or Trump? Turn the other cheek, which is usually a euphemism for cowardice? As a priest, I feel awkward with the usual platitudes of churchmen. We need to look within ourselves, not so much to make ourselves feel guilty, but to know ourselves, be ourselves and ascertain the quality of our own commitment to Christ both in his sacramental mystery and the way of life he taught us in the Gospel.
That is about all I can say in a time when we are troubled by atrocity after atrocity and the duplicity of politicians and world leaders.
At this stage, as it becomes clearer that this was an Islamist attack, my feelings are presently not very Christian and perhaps not very edifying. I am not of the political extreme-right in terms of ideology, but rather more socialist in the 19th century meaning of this idea – but Nationalism now seems to be the only way: a realistic degree of repression of any radical form of Islam, including the use of torture to obtain the information needed to destroy organisations like Daesh. I am in no way motivated by racial hatred, but, at the same time, had Churchill lived in our times, he would have vowed to “fight them in the trenches…”. It is clear that these atrocities are designed to provoke this feeling in us all – until the day when terrorists will curse their mother for giving birth to them.
As a French bishop has just said on the radio, we have to go on living and not let terrorism win in terms of maintaining us in fear for our own lives. It is easy to act tough and run a mile if actually faced with terrorists intending to kill us.