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Christians in Europe are caught between two opposing forces right now, a pontifical foundation said in response to Thursday’s deadly attack in a church in southern France.
Aid to the Church in Need, which has assisted Christians throughout the world, including in areas where they are subject to persecution by Islamist forces, said that the killing of three church-goers in Nice this week by an alleged radical jihadist represented one end of a spectrum of evil with which European Christians must now contend.
Christians face a “radical and visceral attack on two fronts: one which wants to destroy their roots and to create a purely individualistic society without God,” Thomas Heine-Geldern, Executive President of Aid to the Church in Need, said in a statement Friday. “And another which has been radicalized and wants to impose a fundamentalist Islamist system by force, sowing terror and violence as we have seen in Nice, abusing the name of religion and God.”
The statement said Aid to the Church in Need was “deeply shocked by the horrific attack … in the Basilica of Notre-Dame of the Assumption in Nice, France, causing the death of three people, including the beheading of a woman.”
“ACN denounces this outburst of violence, yet another terrorist act in France, and one more on the long list of crimes against Christians in the world,” the statement said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, the injured, their families and the entire French Catholic community.”
The foundation called on “all political and religious leaders in the world to firmly and explicitly condemn this radical Islamist attack. As the French Bishops’ have written, these people have been attacked because they were in the church and because they ‘represented a symbol’ to be destroyed.”
“Today in France, Christians are being murdered,” said Benoit de Blanpré, ACN France’s director. “Let us ask Fr. Jacques Hamel, also slain in his church on 26 July 2016, to intercede so that this barbarism ceases and that Christians can freely live their faith.”
De Blanpré was referring to the elderly priest who was stabbed by two men as he was celebrating Mass near the northern French city of Rouen.
On Friday, French President Emmanuel Macron deployed thousands of soldiers to protect houses of worship and schools, and France’s security alert was at its highest level in response to the knife attack, Reuters reported.
The wire service said that police were holding a 21-year-old Tunisian migrant, identified as Brahim al-Aouissaoui, over the attack, which, it said, took place “at a time of swelling anger among many Muslims across the globe over the issue of French cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad which they deem insulting and blasphemous.”
It occurred about two weeks after Samuel Paty, a school teacher in a Paris suburb, was beheaded by an 18-year-old Chechen who was apparently incensed by the teacher showing such cartoons in a civics class.
France’s Catholic bishops asked their churches to sound their bells at 3 p.m. Friday in memory of the three victims of Thursday’s attack.