Bishops Declare Day of Prayer, Fasting in France
The bishops of France have declared today a day of fasting after Islamic jihadis murdered a French priest saying Mass Tuesday morning.
Two men snuck in the back of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray Church in Normandy, killing 86-year-old Fr. Jacques Hamel after making him kneel at the altar, and taking four others hostage. Early reports based on accounts of a nun who escaped the church but did not see the actual murder said the men beheaded the priest; French police later said they stabbed him in the chest and slit his throat.
The men filmed the murder but did not get the chance to broadcast the film. Alerted to the attack by the nun who escaped, police killed the attackers before they could kill a second person (reportedly a nun), who remains gravely injured Both men wore or carried fake bombs, and shouted “Allahu Akbar” (“God is good”) as they ran from police.
The bishops’ announcement was made orally to journalists in Poland for World Youth Day, and it is not clear whether the day of fasting was meant to be one of mourning, reparation, supplication, or all three.
“What happened in France had happened in other countries before, and actually we see Christians laying down their lives in the interests of their faith,” Msgr. Olivier Ribadeau Dumas, secretary general of the French Bishops Conference said, according to Catholic News Service.
“They die because they are objects of hate and this for a fact gives us an additional motivation to live the life of fraternity we are called to.”
American canon lawyer Dr. Ed Peters said that the declaration was made in accord with canon 1244.2 in the Church’s Code of Canon Law, which spells out who can declare days of fasting and other “sacred times.” His identification of that code indicates that this is, or could be, meant as a day of penance for Catholics. Although such days are binding only on the dioceses of the bishops who declare them, all Catholics may choose to participate in solidarity.
“I encourage Catholics around the world to join with them,” Peters said in a Facebook post shared by many who plan to pray and fast.
You can ask any saint to intercede for France, but France has many great saints from its history or associated with it. Among the patron saints of France are Mary (Our Lady of the Assumption) and the Archangel Michael, as well as:
- St. Denis
- St. Joan of Arc
- St. Martin of Tours
- St. Louis
The most popular saint from Frances is St. Therese of Lisieux, the “Little Flower of Jesus.”
The church where the priest was murdered is named for St. Steven.
Confusion about the purpose of the day of fasting may have come from language or translation difficulties, uncertainty about the incident (still being reported at the time the day of prayer and fasting was announced), and logistics — several French bishops, including the bishop of the archdiocese where the slaughter took place, were out of the country. But it may also reflect the state of the Church in France.
Persecuted and outlawed during the French Revolution, the Catholic Church has been downplayed by secular governments ever since, and has been divided among itself for cultural and political reasons. Socially and politically liberal following Vatican II, the Catholic Church in Frances was rejected by millions of French believers who left for the break-away Society of St. Pius X (SPPX). While in the rest of the world the movement is largely about the Tridentine Latin Mass and the papacy, in France membership is associated with traditional morality and right-leaning politics, including people who want to restore the French monarchy.
The French public is also divided over how to handle refugees from Middle Eastern countries, divisions that have escalated following recent terrorist attacks. Many French people accuse their government of ignoring, and thus encouraging, Islamic terrorism, and are in turn accused of fear-mongering and bigotry against refugees and immigrants. Msgr. Dumas called for peace, fraternity, hope, mercy, and dialogue.
“Violence is not the answer, the only answer is really love,” he said. “We cannot do anything else. Love, love and love. Dialogue and dialogue.”
Such a response from the official Church is not likely to satisfy many parties for long.
“Daesh has declared war on us. We have to win that war,” France’s president Francois Hollande told journalists Tuesday, using another name for Islamic State.
In remarks made to journalists Pope Francis said the world is at war, but not a religious war.
Western countries including the United States have generally attempted to discredit IS by refusing to acknowledge it as a legitimate group or its members as “real” Muslims. The Catholic Church has done the same.
Islam has warred against Christian countries for most of its history, and was the victor in most of those wars. After the last great battle for Europe , the Battle of Vienna in the late 17th century, the Ottoman Empire
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