“PRAY for the people of Nice, and the people of France” was the message from the Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe, Dr Robert Innes, after he visited the city following last week’s terror attack on the Promenade des Anglais, which killed 84 people.
Dr Innes held a service of prayer at Holy Trinity last Sunday, where candles of remembrance were lit for those killed on Thursday of last week, when the Tunisian-born Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel drove a lorry into crowds who were celebrating Bastille Day.
Speaking to BBC Radio, Dr Innes said that the atmosphere in Nice was “sombre and heavy”. He described seeing queues outside florists as residents bought flowers to lay on the roadside in tribute.
When he went to the Promenade des Anglais to pay his own respects at a makeshift shrine of bouquets and teddy bears, he spotted one message which said: “After this, things will never be the same as they were before.”
The Church in Nice is offering support to the city in its grief, but Christians everywhere should join them in prayer, Dr Innes said. “Pray for the people of Nice and the people of France as they respond to this tragedy.”
Speaking last week, the chaplain of Holy Trinity, the Revd Peter Jackson, said that the town was in shock after the attack, which has also left dozens seriously injured.
He had taken part in the Bastille Day festivities in Nice just a few hours before the carnage began. “I know exactly where this happened: it is so familiar. I can’t believe something like this happened there,” he said.
“It’s horrible: it becomes a sort of war zone. But people are determined to just carry on.”
Thousands of people were thronging the waterfront, enjoying the fireworks and live music, when a lorry was deliberately driven into the crowds at about 11 p.m.
Witnesses said that the driver swerved from side to side trying to hit as many people as possible as he drove fast along the road for about a mile. He was eventually shot and killed by police officers.
Fr Jackson was at home, two streets back from the Promenade, before the attack started, but one of his churchwardens had had a narrow escape.
“She was there, and jumped clear of the truck,” he said. “She said she then saw four people who had been standing near her, lying dead underneath the truck. She’s obviously quite traumatised.”
French media report that Mr Lahouaiej-Bouhlel had a history of petty crime, but no known connection to terrorism.
Neighbours have told reporters that he did not appear to be particularly devout; he was often seen drinking alcohol, and was rarely at the mosque.
Islamic State (IS) has claimed responsibility for the attack, saying that Mr Lahouaiej-Bouhlel was acting in response to its calls for Muslims to attack civilians in countries, such as France, which are part of the coalition battling IS. French police have arrested six people in connection with the attack.
Stunned: people during a mass at Sainte-Reparte Cathedral, Nice, last Friday
Stunned: people during a mass at Sainte-Reparte Cathedral, Nice, last Friday
The President of France, François Hollande, travelled to Nice to visit survivors in hospital, and declared three days of national mourning, beginning last Saturday. He also said that 50 of the more than 180 wounded were in intensive care, and “between life and death”.
Fr Jackson said that, earlier in the day, he had been enjoying the Bastille Day celebrations at a reception for police officers and other public servants.
“It was a very congenial, very French occasion; all so innocent and nice,” he said of the men, women, and children enjoying the public holiday. He then watched the fireworks, before returning home shortly before the attack began.
Nice had already been in a state of heightened alert since the terrorist shootings in Paris last November, and to an extent the locals were now “just getting on with it”, he said. “The shops are open; people are out in the square having lunch.”
Soldiers have been guarding synagogues and public spaces since the Paris attacks, and Holy Trinity had tightened its security by installing a CCTV system, fearing that its British and American congregation would make it a target.
“Life has been changed by these destructive people, and it has made it almost unrecognisable,” Fr Jackson said. Even to enter a department store, or watch the opera, now involved a bag search and a metal detector.
But he and his congregation were ready to offer whatever help they could to the people of Nice. The doors of Holy Trinity were open for anyone who wished to pray or light a candle, he said, he had been in touch with the hospitals in case any English-speaking victims or families wished him to visit.
The Suffragan Bishop in Europe, the Rt Revd David Hamid, posted prayers for the people of Nice on his website: “Comfort those who mourn and give strength to the injured. Deliver those whose hearts are hardened by hatred.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury, who lived in France during his career in the oil industry, put out a short message in both English and French on Twitter: “As the French rejoice in their liberty, human evil kills the innocent cruelly. Let us weep with them, let us stand with them #PrayForNice.” He later tweeted an image of the Union flag flying at half-mast at Lambeth Palace.
The Pope sent a message to the Archbishop of Nice, expressing his “deep sorrow” and “closeness” to the French people after “blind violence” had struck them during their national day of celebration.
The Bishop of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, the Rt Revd Pierre Whalon, wrote in a message to his churches that Holy Trinity, Nice, was close to his heart as a church that had previously been an Episcopalian congregation before it joined the Diocese of Europe.
Writing last Friday morning, he said: “They need our prayers as they minister the love of God to their stricken city. And let us pray for the dead and dying, the wounded and all who care for them, the police who had to kill the terrorist and face the horror he had created, and him, too. And finally, pray and work for justice, that we might have peace.”
Theresa May said in a speech that the nation’s thoughts must be with the people of France and all those who had lost loved ones; but, she said, a similar attack in the UK was possible.
“The threat level here in the United Kingdom is already at ‘Severe’: that means that a terrorist attack is highly likely,” she said. More money was being made available to the police and security services to ensure that “brutal murderers”, such as those who had struck in France, could not do so on British soil.
Candlelit vigils and prayers were held at some churches and cathedrals across Britain in a show of solidarity with the victims of the Nice attack. The Dean of Lichfield, the Very Revd Adrian Dorber, led a service of mourning and reflection last Sunday, and a prayer station is set up inside the cathedral for people to light candles and pray.
Leicester Cathedral established a similar station, and released a prayer for those within the diocese who wished to intercede on behalf of Nice.
The co-chairs of the Inter Faith Network, which includes representatives of most of Britain’s faith communities, have released a statement urging the faithful not to allow atrocities such as this to “rupture the fabric of civil society [and] create fear, suspicion, and hatred”.
“Communities will, and must, continue to reject and stand against brutal violence where it is claimed by perpetrators to be in the name of their religion,” the statement continued. “There must be no room for prejudice which singles out any community because of criminal actions carried out by a few in the name of its religion.”