Pope Francis Denounces ‘Horrific’ Vienna Islamist Terror Attack

Pope Francis wearing a face mask attends a ceremony for peace with representatives from various religions in Campidoglio Square in Rome on October 20, 2020. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP) (Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP via Getty Images)
ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP via Getty

ROME — Pope Francis sent a message of condemnation and condolence to the people of Vienna Tuesday following an Islamist terror attack that left five dead and at least 22 wounded.

Pope Francis “was deeply saddened to learn of the horrific acts of violence in Vienna that have brought death and pain to innocent people,” reads the telegram addressed to Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schönborn and signed by Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Pietro Parolin on behalf of the pope.

“His holiness expresses his deepest sympathy to the families of the victims and to all the Austrian people,” the message continues. “He is also close to the injured and prays for their speedy recovery.”

“Pope Francis entrusts the victims to the mercy of God and implores the Lord to bring an end to violence and hatred and to promote peaceful coexistence in society,” the telegram concludes. “His Holiness accompanies all who are affected by this tragedy and offers them his heartfelt blessing.”

Heavily armed gunmen opened fire at six locations in Vienna’s city center on Monday evening, killing two men and two women and wounding 22 more. Police shot dead one of the gunmen, whom Interior Minister Karl Nehammer identified as an “Islamist terrorist” who in 2019 had been sentenced to 22 months in jail after trying to reach Syria to join Islamic State jihadists, but was set free last December after serving just 5 months of his sentence.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said the “repulsive terror attack” was clearly driven by “hatred of our way of life, our democracy.”

On Saturday morning, police arrested a 25-year-old Muslim man who burst into Saint Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna shouting “Islamic slogans.”

Saturday’s incident followed a further disturbance last Thursday at Vienna’s St. Anthony of Padua church, when a mob of nearly 50 young Turkish Muslims entered the church and began kicking the pews and confessionals.

St. Anthony’s is located in Vienna’s Favoriten district, a neighbourhood that is home to one of the Vienna’s largest Muslim populations. The pastor of the church who was present at the time notified the police, who eventually arrived after the young people had already dispersed.

“We oppose any form of extremism with the utmost severity, there is no tolerance,” declared Austrian Interior Minister Karl Nehammer after the event. “We in Austria will never let our right to exercise our religion be destroyed and we will protect the Christian community with all our might.”

For his part, Pope Francis has expressed his belief that “Muslim terrorism does not exist” any more than Christian terrorism exists and that no religion is more or less prone to violence or terrorism.

“There are fundamentalist and violent individuals in all peoples and religions — and with intolerant generalizations they become stronger because they feed on hate and xenophobia,” he said in a 2017 address.

“If I speak of Islamic violence, I must speak of Catholic violence,” Francis said on another occasion. “And no, not all Muslims are violent, not all Catholics are violent. It is like a fruit salad; there’s everything.”

Francis noted that there are “violent persons of this religion [Islam],” immediately adding that “in pretty much every religion there is always a small group of fundamentalists. Fundamentalists. We have them.”

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