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Bishops in Parliament respond to Westminster attack

22 March 2017


On scene: medics attend to the injured

On scene: medics attend to the injured

A BISHOP has told of how he was caught up in the attack on the Palace of Westminster on Wednesday, in which four people were killed.

The Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Revd James Langstaff, said that he was just entering the building as the incident unfolded — he saw people running along the street outside Parliament, and then police officers shutting the gates.

“So I got myself inside fairly quickly,” he said, speaking shortly after the attack occurred. He was one of the first inside the chamber of the House of Lords to tell other bishops and peers of the incident.

“It was clear that some were aware of it but others were not. It was only ten minutes after things began that announcements were made in the House.”

The Metropolitan Police have confirmed that 52-year-old Khalid Masood, a British-born man living in the West Midlands, crashed his car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge, before leaving the vehicle to attack police officers guarding the gates of the Palace of Westminster with a knife.

After stabbing one policeman to death, Mr Masood was shot and killed by one of the defence secretary Sir Michael Fallon's bodyguards, who happened to be passing. The officer who was killed has been named as Keith Palmer.

So far, three people have died after they were mowed down on Westminster Bridge - a teacher in her 40s called Aysha Frade, an American tourist in his 50s called Kurt Cochran, who was visiting the UK on holiday with his wife to celebrate 25 years of marriage, and a 75-year-old man from Streatham called Leslie Rhodes.

At least 40 others have been injured in the attack, including Mr Cochran's wife, seven of them critically.

The entire parliamentary estate was immediately locked down. MPs, peers, journalists, and others were unable to leave the Palace while armed police searched the building.

The Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, was due to open the session of the House of Lords at 3 p.m. with prayers. He said that, after a short period when peers were locked into the chamber, they were evacuated to an internal courtyard while officers swept the building to check for any other attackers.

“Everyone was very calm, although there were heavily-armed anti-terrorist police everywhere,” he said. “There was probably about 40 people in the chamber, but we couldn’t hear anything [from outside as the attack happened].”

Some MPs and other parliamentary staff were later moved to Westminster Abbey, which had earlier closed to all visitors, while police completed their search.

The Archbishop of Canterbury told the House of Lords on Thursday morning that one of the Lambeth Palace security guards, who is a Muslim, narrowly missed being hit by the car on Westminster Bridge.

"[He] arrived at the gate having been missed by the vehicle very narrowly and spent time helping those who had been injured," Archbishop Welby told peers. "It was typical of this community and this country that he refused to go home until the end of his shift and simply spent the time doing his job as he expected.

"This has been typical of so many in this city, the emergency services who contained the incident within six minutes, the staff in this extraordinary place who give so much of themselves on normal occasions and extraordinary occasions.”

Earlier Archbishop Welby had tweeted: "Deeply shocked and saddened by events in Westminster. We are praying for all affected and those responding so bravely."

Bishop Langstaff said that he hoped churchpeople’s response would be one of prayerfulness. “We don’t know the story behind this, or what their motivation might have been,” he said. “But an attack on Parliament is an important thing in our national life.

“The Church of England’s prayerful presence within Parliament and Westminster is important. I hope people would be prayerful for the wellbeing of those who have been injured, and the wellbeing of our democracy.”

Bishop Baines agreed: “The first thing you do is pray for those involved — you don’t ask too many questions."

The Church House communications office released a prayer on Twitter one hour after the attack had begun.

“Defend us, your humble servants, in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in your defence, may not fear the power of any adversaries,” it said.

The attack came exactly one year after a terrorist attack in Brussels where three co-ordinated suicide bombings at the airport and a metro station killed 32 people.

That attack was later claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group, who have also now said in a statement to their own news agency that Mr Masood was a "soldier of the Islamic State" who attacked the UK because it had joined the coalition of nations battling IS in Syria and Iraq.

It was not clear if IS had merely inspired Mr Masood or had actually been involved in planning Wednesday's attack, although the claim did not name Mr Masood or offer any further information on the atrocity.

The Acting Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent, said: "The message from those who carried out this assault at the heart of our freedom and democracy is painfully stark. London’s response must be equally clear. To those who seek to strike terror into our daily lives: you cannot win; you have already lost."

Bishop Broadbent has also written to all London clergy urging them to hold local prayer services, and the diocese has helped organise an interfaith vigil, with partners including the East London Mosque, at St John on Bethnal Green at 6.30 p.m. on Thursday evening. 

There will also be a a gathering of faith leaders from across the capital on the steps of St Martin-in-the-Fields where they will keep a period of silence ahead of a vigil in Trafalgar Square at 6 p.m., organised by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. 

The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, released a statement asking his clergy and congregants to pray for those who have lost loved ones in the incident. 

"We pray in particular as well for Keith Palmer, the police officer who died, and for his family, thanking God that so many show such brave dedication to keeping our society safe," he said.

"Let our voice be one of prayer, of compassionate solidarity, and of calm."

Cardinal Nichols also shared a message he had received from the Pope, assuring him of his prayers.

"Deeply saddened to learn of the loss of life and of the injuries caused by the attack in central London, His Holiness Pope Francis expresses his prayerful solidarity with all those affected by this tragedy," the message read.

The General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the UK, Bishop Angaelos, who was inside Parliament as the attack took place, also released a statement.

"I witnessed the tireless efforts of hundreds of individuals whose primary goal was to look after and secure all those under their care." He particularly praised the Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Revd Rose Hudson-Wlikin, "who stood from beginning to end mingling with, and reassuring all those who were there".

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