Cardinal Robert Sarah has fanned the flames of Islamophobia after an attack in the basilica of the French city of Nice this morning left three people dead.

– Vatican Congregation for Worship prefect makes no mention of victims, goes straight to conjuring “monstrous fanaticism”

Cardinal Sarah, the prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, sent out the following tweet Thursday morning shortly after three people were murdered in a knife attack at the Basilica of Notre Dame in the city on the French south-east coast.

“Islamism is a monstrous fanaticism that must be fought with strength and determination. It will not stop its war. Unfortunately, we Africans know this all too well. Barbarians are always the enemies of peace. The West, now France, must understand this. Let us pray. + RS”.

Cardinal Sarah’s irresponsibility in pouring more fuel on the fire of the discord between “the West” and the Muslim world – already raging after the murder of French teacher Samuel Paty earlier this month, and the insistence of French magazine Charlie Hebdo and other media outlets in publishing cartoons offensive to followers of the Prophet Muhammad – contrasts sharply with the sensitivity of Pope Francis.

In a recent interfaith prayer event in Rome, and in his new encyclical Fratelli tutti, the pontiff has not tired of insisting that “at a time when various forms of fundamentalist intolerance are damaging relationships between individuals, groups and peoples, let us be committed to living and teaching the value of respect for others” (Fratelli tutti, 191).

And indeed, Archbishop of Barcelona Cardinal Juan José Omella recalled the Pope’s teaching in a tweet this morning that was diametrically opposed to that of Cardinal Sarah’s.

“Let us pray together for an end to violence and join in the pain of all the people of Nice”, Omella wrote, adding: “As [the Pope] reminds us in Fratelli tutti: ‘The commandment of peace is inscribed in the depths of the religious traditions that we represent'”.

Archbishop of Madrid Cardinal Carlos Osoro, for his part, added in another tweet: “I am appalled by the attack on a church in Nice. God is Life and Love of neighbour, not hate and death. Together with [the Church in France] I pray for the victims, for their families and for France”.

In the meantime, the director of the Holy See Press Office, Matteo Bruni, sent out a statement acknowledging that the aftermath of the attack on the Nice basilica “is a time of pain in a time of confusion”.

“Terrorism and violence can never be accepted. Today’s attack has sown death in a place of love and consolation, as is the house of the Lord”.

“The Pope is aware of the situation and is close to the mourning Catholic community. He prays for the victims and their loved ones, so that the violence may cease, so that we may return to look upon ourselves as brothers and sisters and not as enemies, so that united the beloved French people may react to evil with good”.

– Bishop of Nice: “My sadness as a human being is infinite in the face of what other so-called human beings can do”

As for the details of the attack Thursday, French media reported that at least three people were killed and several others injured.

According to sources, the attack began around 9am in the Basilica of Notre Dame, Nice’s largest Catholic church. Shortly after, police swarmed the scene to secure the area and restore order.

In a tweet, the city’s mayor, Christian Estrosi, described the incident as suggestive of “a terrorist attack”. He also said that the suspect behind the attack had been arrested.

The president of the French Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort of Reims, expressed his closeness to the victims of the attack.

“My very special prayers for the diocesan people of Nice and Bishop Marceau [of Nice]. May they know how to sustain themselves in this trial and support those who are tested in their flesh”, the archbishop wrote in a tweet.

Recalling the proximity of the solemnity of All Saints celebrated November 1, de Moulins-Beaufort added: “On Sunday, for All Saints, we will hear the Lord: Blessed are the peacemakers, they will be called sons of God. Blessed are those who persecute you for my sake for your reward will be great in heaven”.

For his part, Bishop André Marceau of Nice expressed in a statement his sorrow over the tragic attack.

“My sadness as a human being is infinite in the face of what other so-called human beings can do”, the prelate rued.

Bishop Marceau noted that this latest attack comes a few weeks after Storm Alex – the heavy rains in south-eastern France and north-western Italy that led to flash floods that killed at least seven people on both sides of the border – and a few days after the murder of teacher Paty.

He also announced that all churches in Nice will be closed and placed under police protection until further notice.  

“All my prayers go out to the victims, their loved ones, the police on the front line of this tragedy [and] priests and the faithful who have been wounded in their faith and hope”, Bishop Marceau added.

This latest attack comes while France is still reeling from murder of Paty on October 16 for talking to students about cartoon depictions of the Prophet Muhammad in the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

The city of Nice was also the location of another terror attack on July 14 2016 when a 31-year-old man killed 86 people and injured many others when he drove a truck into a crowd of people who had gathered to celebrate Bastille Day.

(With reporting by Vatican News)

More on Novena on the tragedy of religious extremism:

Religious leaders proclaim: “The time has come to boldly dream anew that peace is possible, that a world without war is not utopian” (full text)

Francis clamours: “We need peace! More peace! Enough of swords, weapons, violence and war!”

Pope pleads for peace: “Love alone extinguishes hatred, love alone triumphs over injustice, love alone makes room for others”

Think radical Islamists are the only ones to perpetrate sacred violence? Christians and secularists do it too

Holy See warns law enforcement, security measures not enough to combat radicalisation: a “culture of encounter” is also needed

Pope pleads: “Stop using religions to incite hatred, violence, extremism and blind fanaticism”


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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.