ROME — Pope Francis warned Wednesday that violent terrorism is on the rise in Europe, following recent lethal attacks by jihadists in Nice, France and Vienna, Austria.
“In these days of prayer for the dead, we have remembered and still remember the helpless victims of terrorism, whose worsening cruelty is spreading in Europe,” the pope said via livestreaming from the library of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace.
On November 2, the Catholic Church celebrated the memorial of All Souls Day, when special prayers are offered for the faithful departed who are believed to be undergoing purification in purgatory.
“I am thinking, in particular, of the serious attack of recent days in Nice in a place of worship and the one the day before yesterday in the streets of Vienna,” the pontiff continued, “which have caused distress and reproach among the population and for those who care about peace and dialogue.
“I entrust to the mercy of God those who have died tragically,” Francis concluded, “and I express my spiritual closeness to their families and to all those who suffer from these deplorable events, which threaten to jeopardize fraternal collaboration between religions with violence and hatred.”
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On Monday evening, heavily armed gunmen began shooting at six different locations in Vienna’s city center, killing two men and two women and wounding 22 more. Police killed one of the gunmen, whom Interior Minister Karl Nehammer identified as an “Islamist terrorist,” a man who in 2019 had been sentenced to 22 months in jail but was released 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 Tuesday, the pope sent a telegram to the people of Vienna, assuring them of his prayers.
Pope Francis “was deeply saddened to learn of the horrific acts of violence in Vienna that have brought death and pain to innocent people,” read the telegram addressed to Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna and signed by Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Pietro Parolin on the pope’s behalf.
“His holiness expresses his deepest sympathy to the families of the victims and to all the Austrian people,” the message continued. “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 concluded. “His Holiness accompanies all who are affected by this tragedy and offers them his heartfelt blessing.”
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Monday’s shooting followed upon two other recent incidents in Vienna involving Muslim unrest.
Last Saturday morning, police arrested a 25-year-old Muslim man who stormed into Saint Stephen’s Cathedral in downtown Vienna shouting “Islamic slogans.”
A further disturbance occurred last Thursday at St. Anthony of Padua church, located in Vienna’s highly Muslim Favoriten district. A mob of nearly 50 young Turkish Muslims entered the Catholic church and began kicking the pews and confessionals but eventually dispersed before police arrived.
“We oppose any form of extremism with the utmost severity, there is no tolerance,” declared Minister 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.”