“When you are attacked so painfully in what is the most precious in your life, you need silence and dignity,” said one Knight.
In the first months of 2019, there were 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 smashed statues, knocked down tabernacles, burned altar cloths and tore down crosses, Catholic News Agency reported.
“When you are attacked so painfully in what is the most precious in your life, you need silence and dignity,” said Arnaud Boutheon, a member of the Knights of Columbus Charles de Foucault Council 16502 in Paris. “The first thing to do is pray, offer this suffering, tell the truth, expose the facts with a responsible voice with no revenge and mourning spirit, but with dignity.”
The Knights of Columbus began to be established in France in 2016 and now have 16 councils and about 320 members, said Joseph Cullen, a spokesman for the Catholic fraternal organization.
The desecrations were met with broad disapproval in France. Edouard Philippe, France’s prime minister, said in a February 13 statement, “Such acts shock me and must be unanimously condemned.”
“Catholics and the whole French public was shocked,” Boutheon attested. “Catholic churches are the sign of our spiritual heritage, the visible sign of our Christian roots.”
Knights and chaplains of the 16 councils in France organized Masses in their parishes, inviting members to pray in solidarity on February 19. They prayed for peace, forgiveness and hope as well as for strength in the face of the offenses.
But Boutheon considers the attacks an opportunity to promote the faith and prayer in a country that has seen its share of violent attacks in recent years. Those attacks include the murder in 2016 of an elderly priest in Normandy, Fr. Jacques Hamel, by Islamic radicals.
“As citizens and patriots, we will act to alert the public opinion about this aggression and help our priests to protect their buildings,” Boutheon said. “As Catholics, we also know that we will find interior peace not in activism but in prayer.”
Boutheon considers the Knights of Columbus an “answer to a new generation of faithful young French Catholics,” that can help bring spiritual healing to those parishes that were the targets of vandalism. Young Catholics, he said, have discovered the “prophetic vision” of Father Michael J. McGivney, who founded the Knights in the United States in the 19th century, “as an answer for our times. There is this spiritual move of letting peace and forgiveness substitute fear and resentment. This move of ‘mastering of ourselves’ is eminently knightly, a sign for true men.”