Pope: Religious justification for Paris attacks 'blasphemy,' love of neighbor needed

by Joshua J. McElwee

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Pope Francis on Sunday again strongly condemned the recent horrific terrorist attacks in Paris, saying he wanted to express closeness to the families of the victims and calling any religious justification for such attacks "blasphemy."

"I wish to express my pain for the terrorist attacks that on late Friday evening stained France with blood, causing numerous victims," said the pontiff, speaking slowly at the end of his weekly Angelus address in St. Peter's Square.

"To the president of the French Republic and to all its citizens, I extend an expression of my fraternal condolences," said the pope. "I am close in particular to the families of all those that have lost their lives, and the wounded."

"Such barbarity leaves us bewildered and makes us ask ourselves how the heart of man can think of and realize such horrible events, that have shocked not only France but the whole world," said Francis.

"In front of these acts, you cannot not condemn the unspeakable affront to the dignity of the human person," he said. "I want to reaffirm with vigor that the way of violence and hate does not resolve the problems of humanity and that to use the name of God to justify this way is blasphemy!"

The pontiff then led the thousands in the Square in a special prayer to the Virgin Mary, calling her "the mother of mercy" and asking that she "protect and watch over the dear French nation, the first daughter of the Church, and over Europe and the whole world."

Information about the Paris attacks is still developing, but most reporting indicates that about three explosions and six mass shootings occurred at different locations throughout the city late Friday evening. At last report, at least 129 people were killed, with many more wounded.

French President François Hollande has announced a national state of emergency and immediately closed the country's borders to prevent escape of any of the attackers.

The so-called Islamic state claimed responsibility on Saturday morning for the attacks and said they were in response to French policy in Syria, according to multiple reports.

The Vatican released its first statement on the attack late Friday evening, saying those in the city-state are "shocked by this new manifestation of maddening, terrorist violence and hatred which we condemn in the most radical way together with the Pope and all those who love peace."

"This is an attack on peace for all humanity, and it requires a decisive, supportive response on the part of all of us as we counter the spread the homicidal hatred in all of its forms," read that statement, made by spokesman Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi.

Francis reflected earlier in his Angelus address Sunday on the Gospel reading for the day, which finds Jesus speaking to his disciples about the end of times. The pope used that reflection to say that love of neighbor is the only "victorious power" in the world.

"Our final goal is meeting with the risen Lord," said the pontiff. "And I would like to ask you: How many of you have thought of this? There will be a day in which I will meet the Lord, face-to-face."

"This is our goal: this meeting," said Francis. "We don't wait for a time or a place, but we go to meet a person: Jesus. For this, the problem is not 'when' the ominous signs of the final times will come, but to make ourselves ready for the meeting."

"And it is not even knowing 'how' these things will be, but 'how' we must act today, waiting for the meeting," he said. "We are called to live the present, building our future with serenity and trust in God."

Francis then said that God calls us to look at our own times through a lens of hope.

"It is that virtue that is so difficult to live: hope, the smallest of the virtues, but the strongest," said the pontiff. "And our hope has a face: the face of the risen Lord, who comes 'with great power and glory' that manifests his crucified love, transfigured in the resurrection."

"The triumph of Jesus at the end times will be a triumph of the Cross, the demonstration that sacrifice of yourself for the love of your neighbor, in the imitation of Christ, is the only victorious power and the only fixed point in the midst of the upheavals and tragedies of the world," said Francis.

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is jmcelwee@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

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