Pope Francis has decried the “absurd violence” which has left an elderly priest dead after his church in northern France was taken hostage during Mass.
In a statement released Tuesday by the Vatican, the Pope, having been informed of the situation, “participates in the pain and horror of this absurd violence,” while radically condemning “every form of hatred.”
The statement said the pontiff is praying for those affected by the tragedy, which took place in the Normandy region, adding that the Vatican is following the situation.
Fr. Jacques Hamel, 84, was killed Tuesday after two armed gunmen stormed a church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray during Mass, the BBC reports. The assailants entered the church and took the celebrating priest and four others hostage.
The BBC further cites police sources which say the priest’s throat was slit in the attack.
Reuters reports that both of the hostage takers were shot dead by police. Authorities say one of the hostages has been critically wounded, the BBC reports.
According to the ISIS-linked Amaq news agency, the assailants were “two soldiers of the Islamic State,” the BBC reports.
“We are especially moved because this horrible violence took place in a Church — a sacred place in which God’s love is announced — with the barbaric murder of a priest and the involvement of the faithful,” the Vatican’s statement read.
“We are close to the French Church, the Rouen archdiocese, to the affected community, and the French people.”
Pope Francis has also sent a telegram to Archbishop Dominique Lebrun of Rouen, assuring him of his “spiritual closeness,” and his prayers for the suffering of the families, the parish community, and the diocese.
In the telegram, signed by Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Pope prayed that God “welcomes Fr. Jacques Hamel in peace,” and brings comfort to the injured person.
Affected that the “act of violence” took place during Mass, the pontiff “implores God’s peace for the world,” the telegram read. He prayed that God might inspire “thoughts of reconciliation and fraternity.”
Archbishop Lebrun, who is currently in Krakow, Poland for World Youth Day, responded to the news of the killing, calling on believers and non-believers to “cry out to God with all men of good will.”
The archbishop said he had prayed in Warsaw with the youth attending WYD at the tomb of Fr. Popiulusko, a priest who was assassinated in 1984 during the communist regime.
“The Catholic Church cannot take weapons other than those of prayer and brotherhood among men,” the Rouen archbishop said, explaining that he would be returning to his diocese where the people are “very much in shock.”
“I leave here hundreds of young people who are the future of humanity, the true ones,” he said. “I ask them not to give in to the violence,” but instead “become apostles of the civilization of love.”
French prime minister Manuel Valls decried the ”horror” of the “barbaric attack,” writing on Twitter: “The whole of France and all Catholics are wounded. We will stand together.”
Tuesday’s killing comes little over a week after a teenage Afghan Islamist went on an axe rampage in Würzburg, Germany, which left several passengers severely wounded. More recently, just last Saturday, around 80 people were killed and 230 people wounded after two explosions struck the Afghan city of Kabul.
The Vatican’s July 26 statement came in response to the “terrible new news” of the deadly hostage situation in a church in Rouen, the latest in “a series of violence which, in recent days has shocked us,” and caused “immense suffering and worry.”
In less than two years, France has witnessed several deadly attacks attributed to Islamic state militants, with the most recent — and second deadliest — taking place earlier this month. On July 14, 84 people were killed in Nice, France when a Tunisian man intentionally drove a large truck through a crowded beach street at high speed during a Bastille Day celebration.
On Nov. 13, 2015, nearly 130 people were killed in a series of attacks throughout Paris. In January of that same year, a total of 12 people were killed in the French capital after terrorists stormed the offices of the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine.
During an address at WYD for the launch of DoCat, a new Catholic social doctrine app for young people, the Archbishop of Manila, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, responded to the attacks.
“We want to express also our unity, our communion of prayer, even of sorrow, with the people of France,” he said.
Although little is yet known about the incident, he said we are nonetheless “shocked, we are saddened, and we pray for the people of France.”