The BBC is reporting that a church in northern France came under attack this morning, with its priest murdered and hostages taken during Mass.
The armed men entered the church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray during Mass, taking the priest, Fr Jacques Hamel, 84, and four other people hostage.
Police later surrounded the church and French TV said shots were fired. Both hostage-takers are now dead.
Pope Francis decried the “pain and horror of this absurd violence”.
French interior ministry spokesman, Pierre-Henri Brandet, said one of the hostages had been critically wounded.
He said the hostage-takers had been “neutralised” after coming out of the church. Police were now searching the church for explosives.
Police sources said it appeared the attackers had slit the priest’s throat with a knife.
The area has been cordoned off and police have told people to stay away.
Mr Brandet said the motive of the attackers was not immediately clear, but the investigation into the incident would be led by anti-terrorism prosecutors.
One of the men was known to the French intelligence services, French TV channel M6 has reported.
If found to be a terrorist attack, this will be only the latest in a string of such onslaughts on the people of France in the past two years.
Yesterday, Anglican Bishops in Europe responded to another, loose chain of events in Germany, where three people have attacked the public in separate incidents over the past eight days, although not all for reasons related to international terrorism. Writing after the mass shooting in Munich Friday, the Rt Rev Pierre Whalon, of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, expressed weariness at the ongoing violence.
The ACNS reports,
“Do you not hear the cries of your children, O God?,” Bishop Whalon wrote. “Have you turned a deaf ear to our petitions? Let my cry come to you, O Lord! How long? How much longer must this so-called Islamic State continue to exist? When will you bring Boko Haram and all the other imitators to an end? What about the persecutors and the persecuted elsewhere in the world? In India and Indonesia. In Pakistan and Thailand and Myanmar. How many more million Congolese are going to die? How long, O Lord, how long?!”
He continued: “Show us your love and mercy again. Please, I don’t want to write more reflections like this. And come to our aid. Give us courage to hope. Strengthen our faith. Empower us to overcome fear. Enable us to transform this world you have given us. To stanch the endless flow of blood. To give hope to the hopeless and to care for the helpless. To let no one, including our very selves, stand in the way of peace.”
In St-Etienne-du-Rouvray, investigations continue. The (Roman Catholic) Archbishop of Rouen spoke this morning to the tragedy.
The Archbishop of Rouen, Dominique Lebrun, who was attending a Catholic gathering in Poland, said: “I cry out to God with all men of goodwill. 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.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury responded on Twitter.
Evil attacks the weakest, denies truth & love, is defeated through Jesus Christ. Pray for France, for victims, for their communities.
Featured image: the church at St-Etienne-du-Rouvray. By M-Knight76
(Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons