VATICAN CITY — Three separate papal statements and a joint communiqué from the Holy See and French imams have made up an unusually forceful reaction from the Vatican in response to yesterday’s terrorist attack in the French capital.

At the beginning of his homily at daily Mass this morning at his St. Martha residence, Pope Francis condemned the atrocity carried out by Islamist terrorists, saying the Paris terror attack “makes us think of so much cruelty, human cruelty, of so much terrorism, both isolated incidents of terrorism and state-sponsored terrorism.”

He added: “What great cruelty man is capable of! Let us pray at this Mass for the victims of this cruelty. So many! And let us also pray for the perpetrators of this cruelty, that the Lord might grant them a change of heart.”

Twelve people, including two policemen, one of whom was Muslim, were murdered by three masked gunmen yesterday at the offices of the French weekly satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. The dead also included cartoonists for the stridently anti-religious, anti-establishment magazine, as well as visitors to the Paris office.

The publication had become famous in recent years for publishing inflammatory cartoons ridiculing Islam and the Prophet Muhammed. In 2011, its offices were firebombed.

On Wednesday, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi issued a statement in which he said Pope Francis expressed “the strongest condemnation of the horrific attack” and that, in prayer, he “shared in the suffering of the wounded and the families of the deceased.”

The communiqué added that the Pope “calls upon all to oppose by every means possible the spread of hatred and all forms of violence, both physical and moral, which destroy human life, violate the dignity of the person and radically undermine the fundamental good of peaceful coexistence between individuals and peoples, despite differences of nationality, religion and culture.”

“Whatever the motives may be, homicidal violence is abhorrent,” the Vatican statement continued. “It is never justifiable. The life and dignity of all must be resolutely guaranteed and protected. Any incitement to hatred should be rejected. Respect for the other must be cultivated.”

The statement ended by stressing the Pope’s closeness, spiritual solidarity and support “for all those who, according to their different responsibilities, continue to steadfastly work for peace, justice and rights, to heal in depth the sources and causes of hatred, at this painful and tragic moment in France and in every part of the world marked by tensions and violence.”

 

Message to the French People

Through Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state, the Holy Father also issued a telegram to the French people on Thursday, expressing his condolences to the families of the victims and promising prayers for the victims, their loved ones and for all the French people.

The telegram, sent to Cardinal André Vingt-Trois of Paris, said the Pope “joins in prayer with the pain of the bereaved families and the sadness of all the French.” Entrusting the victims to God, “full of mercy, praying that he might welcome them into his light,” the Pope expressed in the statement his deepest sympathies to the injured and to their families, “asking the Lord to give them comfort and consolation in their ordeal.”

“The Holy Father reiterates his condemnation of the violence, which generates so much suffering, and, imploring God to give the gift of peace, he assures the affected families and all the French the benefit of divine blessings,” the telegram concluded.

The Pope also had a pre-arranged private meeting on Thursday with Cardinal Vingt-Trois, during which the atrocity will certainly have been discussed.

Also on Thursday, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the French president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, along with four French imams, who were at the Vatican for yesterday’s papal general audience, said they shared the words of Pope Francis on the attack in condemning the cruel and blind violence.

“Like him, we invite believers to manifest friendship,” they said in a statement, adding that, in these circumstances, “it should be noted that, without freedom of expression, the world is in danger.”

Religious leaders are called to further encourage a “culture of peace and hope,” they said, “able to overcome fear and to build bridges between people.”

They added that, “considering the impact of the media,” they wished to invite their leaders “to provide information respectful of religions, their followers and their practices, thus promoting a culture of encounter.”

Interreligious dialogue, they affirmed, “is the only way to go forward together to dispel prejudice.”

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.