Church and U.S. leaders respond to carnage in Nice, France

Reaction to the truck attack in Nice, France, that left 84 dead and many more injured Thursday night followed a now familiar script on Friday, with calls for prayers, promises to root out terrorism and a proposal to conduct religious tests on U.S. citizens to find terrorist sympathizers.

Pope Francis offered prayers and condolences Friday, expressing his “profound sadness and his spiritual closeness to the French people” in a telegram sent to bishop of Nice, Andre Marceau (See: Pope Francis Condemns 'Blind Violence' That Killed 84 in France). The pope also took to social media, tweeting, “I pray for the victims of the attack in Nice and their families. I ask God to convert the hearts of the violent blinded by hate.”

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Closer to home, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a statement that Americans “draw near in prayer to the suffering and recovering people of Nice, France.”

“The darkness of violence cannot dim the light of humanity’s highest aspirations to live in peace,” he said, offering prayers for the dead and wounded.

“These growing storms of hatred may test our ability to see the best in each other, but Jesus has already secured for us the victory of life over death, love over hate,” he continued. “In this way, we isolate the forces of hate, starve its growth and shine the light of love into its darkest corners.”

Other bishops urged prayers on social media, including the bishop of Dallas, Tex., Kevin Farrell, whose own city was recently rocked by violence when a gunman killed five police officers.

“Our prayers & hearts go out to the victims of the Nice assault & to the people of France who have suffered much at the hands of terrorists,” Farrell tweeted.

According to reports, two Americans from Texas were killed in the attack.

Other U.S. bishops tweeted responses to the attack as well.

The archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, took to social media to comment on the killings: “As the French rejoice in their liberty, human evil kills the innocent cruelly. Let us weep with them, let us stand with them #PrayForNice.”

The archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, wrote on Twitter: “My heartfelt prayers for all who died or were injured in the #NiceAttack, their families and the people of France at this time of deep loss.”

Sheikh Salman al-Auda, a Saudi cleric, said the attacker would be cursed by “God, his angels and all human beings,” according to the U.K.’s Guardian. The grand mufti of Egypt described those behind the killings as “saboteurs who follow Satan [who will] be damned in this life and in the hereafter,” the newspaper reported.

In the United States, the Council on American-Islamic Relations condemned the massacre and issued a plea:

“As we mourn the victims and determine how best to protect people of all faiths and backgrounds from such brutal attacks, let us not help the recruiting efforts of ISIS and other terror groups by blaming all Muslims for the murders in France,” said a statement by its leader, Nihad Awad.

Political leaders were indignant Thursday night, including Newt Gingrich, who until recently was considered a possible vice presidential pick for presumptive G.O.P. nominee Donald Trump. He said on Fox News Thursday night that anyone living in the United States “who is of a Muslim background” should be investigated for sympathy to Sharia Law—and face deportation if so.

"We should frankly test every person here who is of a Muslim background and if they believe in Sharia, they should be deported," he said. "Sharia is incompatible with Western civilization. Modern Muslims, who have given up Sharia—glad to have them as citizens. Perfectly happy to have them next door."

He also said that visiting websites with links to ISIS or al Qaeda should be prohibited by law.

Awad, the C.A.I.R. leader, rejected Gingrich’s idea. “When Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich suggests that American Muslims be subjected to an Inquisition-style religious test and then expelled from their homes and nation, he plays into the hands of terror recruiters and betrays the American values he purports to uphold,” he said.

By Friday morning, news reports suggested the driver of the truck was not particularly religious, though he did hail from Tunisia, a predominantly Muslim nation. Gingrich tried to walk back his comments Friday, tweeting that the media was distorting what he said.

Both Trump and presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton said during separate cable TV news interviews Thursday night that the United States was at war with terrorism. The two candidates, however, differed in how they would respond to the continued threat.

Trump told Fox News that he would conduct large-scale military operations to fight extremism and repeated his campaign pledge to stop allowing refugees into the United States from Syria. Clinton, speaking to CNN, said more intelligence gathering was necessary, not traditional warfare.

The attack comes just 10 days before millions of Catholic pilgrims will gather in Krakow for World Youth Day. Event organizers have stressed in recent days that the event is safe, a call they reiterated Friday.

“We’re going to be very practical, be very prudent and be very vigilant,” Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport, Conn., who is the World Youth Day liaison for U.S. bishops, told America. Still, he said there were no credible threats against the week long event, and that no vehicles were allowed in any of the areas pilgrims are scheduled to visit.

“I think everything humanly possible that can be done, is being done” to keep pilgrims safe, he said. He recommended participants visit the special webpage the U.S. State Department launched for Americans traveling to Krakow which has instructions on how to stay safe. About 40,000 Americans are expected to participate in World Youth Day, where Pope Francis is scheduled to speak.

Material from the Religion News Service was used in this report.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
bill bannon
1 year 4 months ago
How can they stop in Kracow a truck which speeds toward the event area? If they promise safety, they should explain to parents whether there are vehicles sufficiently blocking a hypothetical speeding truck. If they do not have actual blockades, they should not promise safety. 84 people were killed without the use of weapons...just with a speeding truck. Kracow needs truck blockades at each relevant street...or don't promise safety simply because it sounds nice.

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