Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, president of the French Bishops’ Conference, has called on Catholics to engage in a “spiritual battle” against radical Islamism. The Bishop said that the last terror attack in Nice demands not only more security, but also efforts to build interreligious solidarity!
La Croix: A new attack has struck France, targeting Catholics in a church in Nice. How should we react without giving in to dismay and anger?
Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort: One must accept being angry and afraid. These are human reactions. But what do we do with them? On All Saints’ Day Sunday, we providentially heard the Beatitudes: they resonate as a call to ask God’s grace to transform our anger and fear into energy for a better good. Let us not remain locked in fear or despair and prisoners of anger that can turn into hatred. The Beatitudes open a way, and Christ gives us an example.
Do you fear the reactions of some Catholics or, more generally, of the French people after this attack?
France reacted admirably, as it did after the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, the Bataclan and the assassination of Father Jacques Hamel. In a fairly firm manner, when faced with terrorist violence, the country has always shown a great deal of dignity and cohesion, even when it was otherwise agitated by social movements.
Already after the assassination of Father Hamel, many observers in France and abroad were impressed by the reaction of French Catholics. I have no doubt that the same will be true after the Nice attack.
In the face of the Islamist threat, how can one preach fraternity without being naive?
First of all, I note great progress: politicians and journalists, with a certain firmness, as well as the Muslim leaders of our country, with a certain courage, dare to point out from where the evil comes. It is necessary to be able to point out the pathology of Islam that Islamism represents. This globalized ideology, nourished by individuals and fueled by the speeches of certain foreign political leaders, exerts considerable influence, notably through the Internet.
It is dramatic to see that young people let themselves be caught up in this ideology and become its executors. Christ invites us to believe that it is worthwhile to go towards the other: not to make war on them, but to anticipate eternal communion. So, yes, there is some risk, but we believe that neither hatred nor oppression will prevail. Police measures, which are absolutely necessary, are not enough. We meet with the Muslims and dare to believe that it is as possible as it is necessary to know and value each other, without sharing the same faith.
How can we be peacemakers at the heart of what some qualify as a war against fanaticism?
I do not hesitate to say that we are at war against this ideology of Islamism. It is a worldwide struggle in which Muslims are also involved. It does a lot of harm to those who want to live their Muslim faith. Perhaps even more Muslims, in our country and elsewhere, should be able to say this firmly.
Violence is in the hearts of all people, including my own. It has also happened that violent Christians use their faith to justify domination and destruction. Transforming violence is a work that we all have to do on ourselves.
Security measures must be taken, but in this war, which is above all a spiritual war, we must be careful not to allow ourselves to be absorbed by the enemy’s weapons. We will not win by using violence to oppose violence.
Our act of faith, as Christians, is to believe that violence can be defeated by the force of love and forgiveness, which does not exclude police measures and the duty of the State to protect.
What can be the role of the Church in this fight against fanaticism?
We must try to receive the word of God in all its power and exigency, and bear witness to it. The Church must make the word of God heard, help the faithful to have a living relationship with Christ, who died on the cross in order to rise again. It was his way of facing the mystery of evil.
We must not only try to live alongside Muslims, but dare to enter into a relationship with them, to not be afraid. In his encyclical Fratelli tutti, the pope highlights, in an astonishing way, his friendship with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar. In a way, he tries to lead all Muslims of goodwill towards the expression of real fraternity and in the search for truth. It is a wager that he makes and in which he involves the whole Church.
How can we go even further in our encounter with French Muslims?
What is lacking today are real relationships between Christian and Muslim families, a real and mutual daily knowledge. For social reasons, in particular, we often live side by side. We have contacts at the top, we learn to esteem each other as leaders. But the most important thing is that children, young people and families discover each other in depth. Christians rooted in their faith can witness peacefully.
In addition to the danger of terrorism, there is also health emergency of the coronavirus. How can we face this second lockdown?
All the measures taken since the month of May have not been sufficient to curb this pandemic, so it is necessary to react. But I regret that religions are once again forbidden to celebrate. I have just written to the Prime Minister, as I did last time, because it seems to me that in our system of separation, the State, while it can limit the number of people gathered together as much as necessary, does not know what is and is not a service.
The French Bishops’ Conference is studying the decree from this angle. It is very important not to leave in official texts formulations that would be contrary to the respect of freedom of worship, especially at a time when the government is preparing a law that would increase its surveillance of religious activities.
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