Catholic leaders urge prayers, unity after attacks in Spain

By Jonathan Luxmoore

OXFORD, England (CNS) — Spanish
church leaders urged prayers and national unity after two terrorist attacks
left at least 19 people dead.

Pope Francis, U.S. bishops and
others weighed in with prayers and rejection of the Aug. 17 attacks in
Barcelona and Cambrils, where cars drove into pedestrians. The Islamic State
group claimed credit for the attacks. Thirteen were killed in Barcelona; one
pedestrian and five suspects were killed in Cambrils.

“People are deeply shocked
and saddened by this totally random event,” said Msgr. Josep Ramon Perez,
dean of Barcelona’s Catholic cathedral. “While many are naturally asking
what’s happening to the world to make such things possible, many also recognize
that the most important response is to pray for peace.”

Thousands attended a midday
vigil Aug. 18 in Barcelona’s Plaza de Catalunya, attended by Spanish King
Felipe VI and government and political party leaders from across the country. Spanish
police asked mourners not to bring bags or backpacks to the vigil, which was
accompanied by parallel commemorations in Madrid and other cities, as well as
at the European Union’s headquarters in Brussels.

Barcelona Cardinal Juan Jose
Omella interrupted his retreat Aug. 17 to return to his city and be close to
his people. The Archdiocese of Barcelona released photographs of him visiting
victims of the attack at the hospital.

In a message to Cardinal Omella,
Pope Francis denounced the “cruel terrorist attack” in Barcelona and
said such “blind violence,” which sows death and pain, is “a
great offense to the Creator.”

The papal message, sent by
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, included prayers for the
eternal repose of the dead, and for their families.

Pope Francis, it said, also prayed
that God “would help us continue working with determination for peace and
harmony in the world.”

In an interview Aug. 18, Msgr.
Perez said Barcelona’s cathedral and neighboring churches had been closed after
the attack as part of a security lockdown, forcing visitors and pilgrims to
remain inside until late evening.

“The terrorists who carried
out this action have nothing to do with ordinary people here,” Msgr. Perez
said, noting that “local Muslims are just as shocked and horrified as
everyone else.”

Candles, flowers and messages of
solidarity were placed in memory of victims at various city locations.

Meanwhile, the Tarraconense bishops’
conference, grouping Catholic bishops from Spain’s Catalonia region, said
members were “completely dismayed” by the “barbarity of the
attack and the contempt it implies for human life and its dignity,” adding
that Barcelona and its inhabitants had always been “committed to the cause
of peace and justice.”

In an Aug. 18 interview with the
Spanish church’s COPE news agency, Cardinal Ricardo Blasquez, president of the
Madrid-based bishops’ conference, said Spaniards would be “especially
beaten” after the Barcelona outrage, which had “inflicted a wound on
everyone.” He urged citizens to remember that Muslims were “the main
victims” of Islamic State and not to “criminalize” them for the
attack or “identify terrorism with Islam.”

“Far from being terrorist
violence, the true road to building a future of peace, now and forever, lies in
respect for all people,” Cardinal Blasquez said.

Following the first attack, Bishop
Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, chairman of the USCCB Committee on International
Justice and Peace, said the bishops’ conference “unequivocally condemns
this morally heinous act and places itself in solidarity with the people of the
Archdiocese of Barcelona and Spain at this terrible time of loss and grief.”

“Terrorist attacks on
innocent civilians can never be justified,” he said. “To directly
attack innocent men, women and children is utterly reprehensible.”

The attack is the latest of
several in which trucks and vans had been driven at high speed through pedestrian
zones in Europe.

In an Aug. 18 message,
Archbishop Georges Pontier of Marseille, president of the bishops’ conference
in neighboring France, said the Barcelona atrocity was “an insult to the
Creator,” and would unite Catholics in their determination that “evil
will not have the last word.” In Nice, France, in July 2016, 86 people
were killed and 458 injured in a similar attack with a 19-ton truck.

The Las Ramblas attack was
Spain’s worst since March 2004, when Islamist militants detonated 10 bombs on
commuter trains in Madrid, killing 191 people and injuring more than 1,800.

– – –

Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at

Original Article