Pope condemns 'blind violence,' offers prayers after Brussels attacks

IMAGE: CNS photo/Reuters, handout

By Cindy Wooden

Francis, condemning the “blind violence” of the terrorist attacks in
Brussels, offered his prayers to the victims, the injured, their families and
all those offering assistance in the aftermath of the bombings.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican
secretary of state, sent the pope’s condolences March 22 to Archbishop Jozef De
Kesel of Mechelen-Brussels.

“The Holy Father again
condemns the blind violence which causes so much suffering, and he implores
from God the gift of peace,” the message said.

The pope “entrusts to God’s
mercy those who died and, in prayer, he shares the pain of their loved ones,”
the message said. “He expresses his deepest sympathy to the injured and
their families, as well as for all those providing assistance, “asking the
Lord to give them comfort and consolation amid this ordeal.”

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi,
Vatican spokesman, told reporters the attacks in Brussels would not lead to any
changes in Pope Francis’ Holy Week and Easter schedule. Already for the Year of
Mercy, especially after the November terrorist attacks in Paris, the Italian
police presence at the Vatican has been increased.

Three nearly simultaneous
attacks — two at the Brussels airport and one on the Brussels area of
Maalbeek, near where much of the European Union is based — left at least 31
dead and dozens more injured. At least one of the airport attacks was
attributed to a suicide bomber.

The Associated Press reported
that a spokesman for the Brussels Metro said 20 people were killed and more than 100 injured in an explosion on a train, and Belgian media reported at least 11 dead
in two explosions at the airport, with many others injured. No one immediately
claimed responsibility for the attacks, but European security officials had
been bracing for an attack for weeks, AP reported.

After the attacks, Belgium
raised its terror alert to the highest level.

Belgium’s Catholic bishops said
they shared “the anguish of thousands of passengers and their families,
aviation professionals and aid teams called to the breach once more.”

The bishops said airport
chaplains were “at the daily service of all,” and would “offer
the necessary spiritual service,” adding that it counted on the whole
country to “live through these days with great civic responsibility.”

Brussels Auxiliary Bishop Jean
Kockerols told the church’s Cathobel news agency he was shocked by the savagery
of the “completely absurd attacks.”

“We must support the
efforts of the public authorities we’ve elected and mandated to serve the
common good and maintain law and order — it’s not for us to start polemicizing
and making accusations today as to whether they fulfilled their duties and did
all they could,” Bishop Kockerols said.

“It’s a great mystery that
this has all happened on the threshold of Holy Week, the most sacred time for
Christians, when we are about to mark Good Friday and Easter. In the face of
such madness, we should adopt the courageous attitude of Mary, who remained at
the foot of the cross in silence.”

Cathobel issued an emergency
number for those seeking information about missing family members and said it
had been in contact with Father Michel Gaillard, the Brussels airport chief

Meanwhile, German Cardinal
Reinhard Marx, who heads the Brussels-based Commission of the Bishops’
Conferences of the European Community, or COMECE, said Catholics would be “praying
especially in Holy Week” for victims of the violence.

In a statement, he said he had
been concerned about COMECE staffers, who later issued a message confirming
that all personnel were safe.

A bishops’ conference staffer, Father
Geert Lesage, told Catholic News Service he expected Catholic clergy to visit
sites of the attacks to offer pastoral care, as well as to organize special
Masses as soon as security conditions permitted.

However, he added that all
mobile phone connections were now down in Brussels, making it impossible to
obtain news of Catholic victims or damage to church property.

Father Charles De Clercq, a
Brussels priest, told Cathobel he had been in the first car of the bombed Metro
train, which had been “plunged into darkness and filled with smoke”
after the explosion.

“Smashed windows fell on my
knees — there was light, smoke and shouts. The driver arrived after two
minutes with a lamp and made the passengers leave via an emergency window,”
the priest said.

“On the floor, passengers
were curled up, obviously in pain, who could have been crushed by those in
flight. I knew there’d been two explosions in the morning at Zaventem (airport),
so I knew there was a real possibility this was also an attack.”

A day earlier, gunmen in Bamako,
Mali, targeted a hotel that was serving as the headquarters of an EU troops who
were there to train the country’s military. Mali and other West African
countries have been under attack by Islamic extremists.

Catholic Relief Services, which
has programs in Mali, announced March 22 that its staffers were safe after the

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Contributing to this story was
Jonathan Luxmoore in Oxford, England.

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