THE Chaplain of Holy Trinity, Nice, the Revd Peter Jackson, has expressed shock and disbelief at the murder of three people in a church in the French city on Thursday morning. He said that it would be a memory that the city could “never erase”.
In a statement on Thursday, Fr Jackson said: “It is so horrifying to think that a terrorist attack has happened here again. The people killed and injured were at an early morning mass. They can have had no idea that their lives were at risk.
“For those who witnessed the attack, this will be a memory that they can never erase, just as those who witnessed the truck ploughing into the crowd on14 July 2016 will never forget it.
“It is very difficult to protect against such an attack. Churches are public, open buildings, dedicated to prayer. You can have security cameras, as we have had at Holy Trinity, Nice, but they cannot deter such violence. They merely record it. The police may patrol, as they do, but it is impractical to guard every church.
“At the moment, there is plenty of rhetoric about religion and freedom of speech in France. The responsibility of faith leaders is to encourage dialogue and not to stir up public anger.”
A man stabbed and killed three people inside the Basilica of Notre-Dame from about 9 a.m. on Thursday. He is reported to have shouted “Allahu Akbar” (“God is greater”) while carrying out the attack.
One of those murdered was the church’s caretaker; 55-year-old Vincent Loques; the other two victims were 44-year-old Simone Barreto-Silva and 50-year-old Nadine Devillers. Several other people have been injured.
There were worshippers in the church at the time of the attack. A witness raised the alarm using the city’s special-protection system. Police shot and wounded a man, who was taken to hospital. The Mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi, has described the incident as a terrorist attack.
The country’s Minister of the Interior, Gérald Darmanin, has warned people to avoid the centre of Nice. A murder inquiry has been opened by French anti-terrorism prosecutors.
The three people arrested in connection with the attack include 21-year-old Brahim Aouissaoui, a 35-year-old Nice resident suspected of meeting with the attacker the day before the incident, and a 47-year-old man who was arrested on suspicion of having been in contact with Mr Aouissaoui.
The National Assembly held a minute’s silence on Thursday morning. The President of France, Emmanuel Macron, is due to visit the city later in the day.
A man was also shot and killed by police in Avignon, in Provence, the same day as the attack in Nice; he had threatened people with a handgun.
Outside the French consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, a guard was attacked by a knifeman hours after the attack in Nice, and was taken into hospital.
In a statement issued on Thursday afternoon, the Archdeacon of France, in the diocese in Europe, the Ven. Meurig Williams, said that he was praying for all those affected.
“We are shocked and distressed at this morning’s deaths following the terrible atrocity in Nice, and at the attack that took place near Avignon. We pray for all those affected at this time,” he said.
Pope Francis wrote on Twitter: “I am close to the Catholic community of Nice, mourning the attack that sowed death in a place of prayer and consolation. I pray for the victims, for their families and for the beloved French people, that they may respond to evil with good.”
The Bishop of Nice, the Rt Revd André Marceau, told the Vatican News Service: “My sadness as a human being is infinite in the face of what other so-called human beings can do. All my prayers go out to the victims, their loved ones, the police on the front line of this tragedy, priests and the faithful who have been wounded in their faith and hope.”
Bishop Marceau said that all churches in Nice would be closed and placed under police protection until further notice.
Earlier this month, a teacher at a school in the village of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, Sam Paty, was beheaded after showing children cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.
In 2016, a 31-year-old Tunisian lorry driver, Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, drove a truck into crowds of people who were celebrating Bastille Day in Nice. He killed 86 people and injured 458 others, and was eventually shot dead by police (News, 22 July 2016).