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String of attacks on French churches includes desecration of Eucharist

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France's prime minister condemns sacrilege.

A recent spate of church desecrations in France has Catholic leaders and state officials concerned and is reminding people of the attacks on churches in France and Belgium by sympathizers of the Islamic State group in 2016.

There have been close to a dozen incidents of vandalism and desecration in Catholic churches across France, including the scattering of Eucharistic hosts and the use of feces to draw a crucifix on a wall. Vandals have also smashed statues, knocked down tabernacles, burnt altar cloths and tore down crosses, Catholic News Agency reported.

Edouard Philippe, France’s prime minister, said in a February 13 statement, “Such acts shock me and must be unanimously condemned.”

So far, there has been one confession. Officials have not yet said if the various incidents are related.

Early this year, St. Nicholas Catholic Church in Parisian suburb of Houilles, Yvelines, began suffering a string of attacks. First, the altar cross was found thrown to the ground and the celebrant’s chair was damaged. Then, on February 4, a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary was found smashed on the ground in the church. On February 10, the tabernacle was found thrown to the ground, according to the Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians in Europe, a Christian watchdog group. A-35 year-old man confessed to police to committing that act.

On February 5, an altar cloth was found burnt and crosses and statues torn down or disfigured at the 800-year-old Saint-Alain Cathedral in Lavaur, in south-central France. The fire was found early by a parish secretary and did not spread, but there was smoke damage in the building, which had recently undergone renovations.

Just a day after, in Nimes, near Montpelier, someone broke into the tabernacle of a local church and scattered the hosts on the ground. The vandal or vandals also drew a cross on the wall with excrement and damaged other religious items. Bishop Robert Wattebled of Nimes denounced the desecration, saying it  “hurts us all in our deepest convictions.”

Bishop Wattebled announced that a Mass of reparation would be offered in the church before regular Masses continue. He said that local religious orders had already offered to observe days of fasting and prayer in reparation for the desecration, and he encouraged lay Catholics to do likewise.

A tabernacle was opened and the Eucharistic hosts scattered in yet another incident, on February 9, at the Church of Notre-Dame de Dijon in Côte-d’Or, in the East of France. Although an altar cloth was stained and a missal was torn, nothing of great monetary value was damaged, leading a parish priest to speculate that the primary motive of the vandals was to attack the “heart of the Catholic faith.”

Ellen Fantini, executive director of the Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians in Europe, said in a statement, “It is our sincere hope that the perpetrators are brought to justice and that awareness of increasing anti-Christian hostility in France reaches the public square.”

The earlier string of attacks on churches, in 2016, had a particularly tragic element to it, in that an elderly parish priest in Normandy, Fr. Jacques Hamel, was murdered by jihadists while offering Mass.

 

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