Manuel Valls emphasizes Catholic culture of France and warns of division
It’s not the kind of sentiment one would expect to hear from the leader of a nation that prides itself on its history of secularism.
But in the wake of a thwarted terrorist attack on churches in France this past weekend, Prime Minister Manuel Valls was clear: attending Mass is “the most beautiful and strongest" answer to terrorism.
Valls spoke to reporters while standing next to Bishop Michel Santier of Creteil, the diocese south of Paris where one or more churches were allegedly in the crosshairs of a 24-year-old Algerian national. The plot, foiled when the student accidentally shot himself and called for an ambulance, was, according to Valls, the fifth terrorist attack authorites thwarted since the Charlie Hebdo attack in January.
"What could have happened is a shock to everyone,” Valls said, adding that he wanted to meet with Church officials to express “our deep emotion and our total solidarity…. This time, it was the Christians, the Catholics of France, who were targeted for the first time. Two churches were in the viewfinder of the individual.”
Valls said that “specific protection” is being provided to 178 Catholic places of worship.
To attack a church is to attack “a symbol of France," the premier said. "The terrorists probably still wanted to hit the heart to divide and destroy. The answer is the gathering, is unity. That’s democracy, it’s the living together and that is the ability to respond as the French have done on January 11.
"The faithful of the Catholic religion,” he continued, “must be able to worship, go to Mass in perfect serenity. Moreover, it is the most beautiful and strongest of the answers we need to terrorism, which targets France to divide… . France has a great Christian heritage. Cathedrals, churches, chapels, attract tourists, pilgrims, thousands of the faithful around the world. This heritage must be protected, but must remain open, accessible.”