France was convulsed by another horrific attack as armed men burst into a Catholic Church near Rouen and slit the throat of a priest who was saying Mass.
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The slain priest, the Rev. Jacques Hamel, who was in his mid-80s, was one of four people taken hostage on Tuesday morning, July 26, by the attackers, who authorities said had claimed to be from Daesh, the Arabic term for the Islamic State group.
“How many more dead before European governments understand the situation in which the West finds itself?”
One of the other hostages was reportedly in critical condition and both assailants were reportedly killed by security forces.
French President Francois Hollande said ISIS was behind the attack, and Prime Minister Manuel Valls called it “a barbaric attack on a church.”
“The whole of France and all Catholics are wounded. We will stand together,” he added.
The attack took place at the parish church in the town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, in Normandy.
It was the latest in a string of deadly terrorist attacks in Europe in the past couple of weeks, including the Bastille Day attack in the French city of Nice and killings in several places in Germany.
At the Vatican, Pope Francis’ spokesman Father Federico Lombardi issued a statement saying the pontiff has been informed “and participates in the pain and horror of this absurd violence, with the most radical condemnation of all forms of hatred and prayer for those affected.”
“We are particularly affected because this horrific violence took place in a church, a sacred place where the love of God is proclaimed, with the barbaric killing of a priest and the involvement of the faithful,” the statement read.
The conservative Guinean prelate, Cardinal Robert Sarah, said he was praying for the victims and for France and asked in a tweet: “How many more dead before European governments understand the situation in which the West finds itself? How many more decapitated heads?”
The Islamic State group issued a statement saying the church attack was carried out by two “soldiers” from the group, which has claimed responsibility for inspiring a number of brutal terror attacks in France and elsewhere in Europe.
If ISIS were behind the attack, it would signal a new phase in the battle against the terrorist group since they have not targeted Christian sites in Europe.
The Vatican has long been on a state of high alert for threats against Pope Francis, who leaves Rome tomorrow for a five-day trip to a Catholic youth festival in Poland. And Christians in the Middle East have increasingly been subject to vicious attacks by Islamic radicals.
At the Vatican, spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi issued a statement in the pontiff’s name saying that Francis is “particularly shocked because this horrible violence took place in a church, in which God’s love is announced, with the barbarous killing of a priest and the involvement of the faithful.”
The elderly priest who was killed was filling in for the regular parish priest, who had just left on vacation, The New York Times reported.
This article originally appeared in Religion News Service.