The barbaric and cowardly terrorist attack this past Thursday evening on the iconic Promenade des Anglais in Nice, France on Bastille Day, France’s national holiday, leaves us all deeply shaken. As French President Hollande addressed the nation on French television late Thursday evening, he said “Bastille Day day is a symbol of liberty, and human rights are denied by fanatics and France is quite clearly their target.”
According to French prosecutor Francois Molins, 10 children and teenagers are among the 84 dead after a man drove a truck through a Bastille Day event on the crowded Promenade des Anglais. Many remain in critical condition, hovering between life and death.
The attack comes only eight months and a day after gunmen and suicide bombers from the so-called Islamic State struck Paris on November 13, 2015, killing 130 people. Four months ago, Belgian Islamists linked to the Paris attackers killed 32 people at a Brussels airport. ISIS has now claimed responsibility for the deadly attack, claming that the perpetrator was one of its “soldiers.”
In a telegram sent on his behalf by the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Pope Francis has condemned the terror attack in Nice and expressed his profound sadness and his spiritual closeness to the French people. Addressed to the Bishop of Nice André Marceau, the telegram noted that whilst France was celebrating its national day “blind violence has once again hit the nation” in the city of Nice whose victims include many children. It said the Pope once again “condemned such acts” and expressed his “profound sadness and his spiritual closeness to the French people.”
The telegram continued by saying that Pope Francis “entrusts to the Mercy of God those who have lost their lives” and he shares “the pain of the bereaved families” and also expressed his sympathy to those wounded. The Pope concluded by imploring from God the gift of “peace and harmony” and invoking divine blessings on the families affected by this tragedy and all the people of France.
Terrorist attacks are always regarded as unconscionable violations of human life, but they seem especially heinous when children are involved. To kill in the name of religion is not only an offense to God, but it is also a defeat for humanity. No situation can justify such criminal activity, which covers the perpetrators with infamy, and it is all the more deplorable when it hides behind religion, thereby bringing the pure truth of God down to the level of the terrorists’ own blindness and moral perversion.
ISIS and any form of terrorism in the name of God is an aberration of religion. ISIS’ manipulation and distortion of the massive refugee crisis to infiltrate terrorists into other countries is criminal and evil. We must distinguish between true religion and the twisted religion used to justify hatred and violence. True religion leads people to healing, peace, solidarity and desires to make the world a better place. True religion respects the sacredness and dignity of the human person. True religion invites people to respond to crises with mercy, charity and hospitality.
In Pope Francis’ Message for the 49th World Day of Peace (January 1, 2016) entitled “Overcome Indifference and Win Peace”, the Bishop of Rome writes:
2. Sadly, war and terrorism, accompanied by kidnapping, ethnic or religious persecution and the misuse of power, marked the past year from start to finish. In many parts of the world, these have became so common as to constitute a real “third world war fought piecemeal”. Yet some events of the year now ending inspire me, in looking ahead to the New Year, to encourage everyone not to lose hope in our human ability to conquer evil and to combat resignation and indifference. They demonstrate our capacity to show solidarity and to rise above self-interest, apathy and indifference in the face of critical situations.
5. This then is why “it is absolutely essential for the Church and for the credibility of her message that she herself live and testify to mercy. Her language and her gestures must transmit mercy, so as to touch the hearts of all people and inspire them once more to find the road that leads to the Father. The Church’s first truth is the love of Christ. The Church makes herself a servant of this love and mediates it to all people: a love that forgives and expresses itself in the gift of oneself. Consequently, wherever the Church is present, the mercy of the Father must be evident. In our parishes, communities, associations and movements, in a word, wherever there are Christians, everyone should find an oasis of mercy.
We too, then, are called to make compassion, love, mercy and solidarity a true way of life, a rule of conduct in our relationships with one another. This requires the conversion of our hearts: the grace of God has to turn our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh, open to others in authentic solidarity. For solidarity is much more than a “feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far”. Solidarity is “a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all”, because compassion flows from fraternity.”
Let us pray for all those who lost their lives tragically on Thursday night in Nice. Let us remember families that have been decimated and all those who mourn the loss of life of loved ones and friends. Let us storm heaven and beg the Lord to rain down justice, mercy and peace on France and on all countries that have been terribly afflicted with this reign of terror and violence.