Sydney Archbishop Offers Solace in Aftermath of Deadly Siege

‘There is something greater than hatred and violence,’ Archbishop Anthony Fisher said. ‘There is Love, that humble, self-donative Love that comes in the shape of the Christmas Babe, the Prince of Peace.’

A man places flowers as a mark of respect for the victims of the Martin Place siege on Dec. 16 in Sydney.
A man places flowers as a mark of respect for the victims of the Martin Place siege on Dec. 16 in Sydney. (photo: CNA/Getty Images/Daniel Munoz)

SYDNEY — In the aftermath of a hostage situation at an Australian café that resulted in three deaths, Sydney’s new Archbishop Anthony Fisher stressed that the love of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, can overcome fear and darkness.

“We are not used to hearing words like ‘siege,’ ‘terrorist,’ ‘hostages’ and ‘security forces’ associated with our city. Yet, for the past day and night, we were subjected to pictures and sounds we tend to associate with alien lands,” he said in a Dec. 16 homily at Sydney’s St. Mary’s Cathedral during a special Mass for the victims.

“Hell had touched us,” he said.

On Dec. 14, a gunman took 17 people hostage at the Lindt Chocolat Café in Martin Place, a shopping area of Sydney’s financial district. A 16-hour hostage situation followed. The standoff ended the next day, when commandos stormed the café and killed the gunman after they heard gunfire, the BBC reported. Two of the hostages were killed.

“The darkness need not overcome the light,” Archbishop Fisher said. “There is something greater than hatred and violence: There is Love, that humble, self-donative Love that comes in the shape of the Christmas Babe, the Prince of Peace. He can soften the hardest hearts. He can convert the most hardened sinner. Come, Prince of Peace. Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

The archbishop reflected on the effects the hostage situation has had on Sydney.

“Today, the heart of our city is broken by the deaths of two innocent hostages, along with their tormentor, the injuries of four others and trauma to many more, [given] the paralysis our city has experienced this day past.”

The archbishop grieved the death of Katrina Dawson, 38, a mother of three and an advocacy lawyer, who reportedly died shielding her pregnant friend. He also deplored the death of Tori Johnson, 34, a man who was a manager at the café. Johnson was reportedly killed after he charged the gunman.

“These heroes were willing to lay down their lives so others might live, imitating the sacrifice of Christ, who said that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for each other,” Archbishop Fisher said, referring to Jesus’ words in the Gospel of John.

He also noted the death of the gunman and hostage-taker, identified as Iranian-born Australian citizen Man Haron Monis.

“Much is still unclear about him, his motivations and affiliations, and we must avoid too quickly jumping to conclusions and pointing fingers,” the archbishop said.

Monis, who received political asylum in 1996, was a self-described sheik who had repeated run-ins with the law, News.com.au reported. At the time of the hostage incident, he was on bail after being charged with accessory to murder for the death of his ex-wife. In March, he faced charges of more than 50 sexual offenses. He has been convicted of sending offensive letters to the families of Australian soldiers who died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Monis reportedly forced his hostages to hold up a black Islamist banner, which Archbishop Fisher said “blasphemously used the name of God as a threat.”

The archbishop warned that the attack could challenge Australians’ assumption of safety and make them “become cautious, cynical, suspicious of our neighbors or, worse, that we turn on them.”

However, this would “undermine what we most love about our Australian way of life.”

He connected the attack to Christmas and the birth, life and death of Jesus Christ.

“Christ is threatened from the moment of his birth until the violence of this world finally catches up with him on the cross. And our world today is every bit as mixed up as it was at the first Christmas.”

“Christmas, we think, is supposed to be different — but, in a sense, it was always like this,” he continued.

“So why, if the Prince of Peace has come, do these terrible things keep happening?” Archbishop Fisher asked. “Perhaps the answer is in the first Christmas carol, when the angels sang, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to those of goodwill.’

“The God who saves still leaves men free. They choose whether to be of goodwill or not. The Christ Child proposes peace, again and again; he gives us the wherewithal to be reconciled and live peaceably with our neighbors; but, in the end, we choose whether to live in his kingdom, by his values.”

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