French bishops call for day of prayer, fasting July 29

Rouen’s Archbishop: Take up weapons of prayer, brotherhood

Karna Swanson

French priest Father Jacques Hamel, 84, was brutally murdered July 26 while celebrating Mass at his parish in St.-Étienne-du-Rouvray. The bishops of France have called for a national day or prayer and fasting July 29 in response to the attack. (Photo courtesy of the Archdiocese of Rouen)

The bishops of France have called for a national day of prayer and fasting July 29, in response to the murderous attack on 84-year-old Father Jacques Hamel at the hands of two self-proclaimed members of the so-called Islamic State (IS).

The attack took place in the parish of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray in the northern French Archdiocese of Rouen. The two assailants were killed by French police, and another victim is in critical condition.

In a statement posted Wednesday, Archbishop Georges Pontier of Marseille, president of the French bishops’ conference, said the brutal murder of the elderly priest was “unthinkable.”

“There are many feelings that we experience in these moments,” he wrote. “We know, however, that one, brotherhood, dear to our country, is the way that leads to lasting peace. Let’s build it together.”

The archbishop invited “all Catholics of France to a day of fasting and prayer for our country and for peace in the world this Friday, July 29.”

He also asked in particular that the 30,000 French pilgrims in Poland this week for World Youth Day pray the Way of the Cross with the intention of peace for France, and for the world.

“We follow Christ in his victory over hatred, revenge and death,” he concluded. “He is our light, and our hope.”

Be apostles of love

Archbishop Dominique Lebrun of Rouen, who was leading several groups totaling some 300 pilgrims to World Youth Day, left Krakow Tuesday to return to his home diocese after learning of the attack.

“I cry out to God with all men of good will,” he said in a statement made available by the World Youth Day Communications office. “I would invite non-believers to join in the cry!”

“The Catholic Church cannot take weapons other than those of prayer and brotherhood among men,” he said. “I leave here hundreds of young people who are the future of humanity, the true ones. I ask them not to give in to the violence and become apostles of the civilization of love.”

In a press conference later that day in Krakow, Msgr. Olivier Ribadeau Dumas, secretary general of the French bishops’ conference, said that the bishops of France want to “build the civilization of love, and that’s why we are here. We don’t want violence and hate to have the upper hand.”

The ‘spark of peace’

“Neither hate nor violence is a way out,” he continued. “We cannot surrender to these sentiments. Today young people from around the world rejoice, because of this love we can live in peace and fraternity.”

“I believe that World Youth Day needs to proceed with intensity and power so that the young people might indicate the path for the Church,” Msgr. Dumas said. “We should see the horizon of peace, joy, brotherhood and prayer.”

At the opening press conference on Monday evening, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow said, “We want to show to the youth the mystery of Divine Mercy and let them take from Krakow the idea of the ‘spark of peace.’ Now in Europe, we have a time of anxiety. Peace is endangered because of brutal terrorism. That is why we want to create an atmosphere of peace, reconciliation, solidarity, and kindness which from Krakow can take over the whole world.”

COMING UP: Healing hatred and anger after Charlottesville

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The confrontation in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the nationwide reaction to it are clear signs of the tensions simmering just below the surface of our society. But we know as people of faith that these wounds can be healed if we follow Christ’s example, rather than the path of revenge.

It was with a heavy heart that I learned about the Aug. 12 clashes between white supremacists and counter protesters in Charlottesville that resulted in the injury of around 34 people and the death of Heather Heyer. It was an “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” melee.

These events remind me of Pope Francis’ 2017 World Day of Peace message, in which he pointed out that “Jesus himself lived in violent times. Yet he taught that the true battlefield, where violence and peace meet, is the human heart: for ‘it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come’ (Mk. 7:21).”

What we witnessed in Charlottesville was an outward expression of hundreds of hearts, and as a shepherd of souls, I cannot stand by silently while people allow hatred toward others rule their hearts. Particularly reprehensible were the derogatory words the neo-Nazis and their white supremacist allies shouted toward African Americans, Jews and Latinos. This is not how God sees his children!

Every human being is bestowed from the moment of conception with the dignity of being made in the image and likeness of God, and we are all loved by him, even amid our sin and brokenness. Satan seeks every opportunity to twist these fundamental truths in the hearts of human beings and we can see the devastation it brings throughout history.

It can be tempting to respond to these attacks on our fellow man with violence, just as the members of the Anti-fascist movement (known as “Antifa”) did in Charlottesville. But this is not what Christ taught, since it allows hatred to gain a foothold through a different avenue. It is worth repeating: the human heart is the true battlefield.

Jesus’ response to violence and persecution stands in contrast with the way of hatred and anger. Instead, he taught his disciples to love their enemies (Mt. 5:44) and to turn the other cheek (Mt. 5:39). Christ’s radical answer is only possible because God unconditionally loves every person and is ready to forgive us when we repent. God’s love is the only thing that can cut through the hatred that is bringing people to blows, heal the human heart and form it after his own. As people of faith, we are called to bring the truth of love to these festering wounds so that hearts may be healed by Christ.

Joseph Pearce, the Catholic convert and former white supremacist, is a perfect example of this. In a recent article for the National Catholic Register, he recalls how it was his encounter with the objective truths of the faith that demolished his race-centered identity and seeing his enemies love him when he confronted them with hatred that changed his heart. We must pray for the grace to love as Jesus loves, to love as the Father loves.

“The way out of this deadly spiral,” Pearce says, “is to go beyond the love of neighbor, as necessary as that is, and to begin to love our enemies. This is not simply good for us, freeing us from the bondage of hatred; it is good for our enemies also.”

May all of us follow the great example of Mark Heyer, the father of the woman who was killed after the white supremacist rally. His daughter’s death, Heyer told USA Today, made him think “about what the Lord said on the cross, ‘Forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.’”

Jesus desires that every person have a heart that is whole and free from hatred, anger and pride. He desires to form our hearts, and that only comes about when we are receptive to his unconditional love, for only in receiving his unconditional love will we be able to give it to others. I pray that all the faithful will be instruments of healing for our country by bringing Christ’s forgiveness to their neighbors and their enemies.