December 4, 2020

“It is sad to have a police cordon around the church”


In the Saint-Sulpice church, located in the heart of the 6th arrondissement of Paris, three policemen guard the entrance door. A few minutes after 11am, neighbors and residents arrive at the church and prepare to take a seat for the All Saints mass. A security service checks the bags and backpacks at the entrance, where there are no shortage of hydroalcoholic gel dispensers. Once inside, there is an empty chair between each assistant to respect the safety distance.

“Today’s mass is marked by two events”, thus begins the sermon of Father Henri de la Hougue. “Because of the health crisis and the confinement that has just begun, and because of an even more dramatic event: the attacks in recent days, with Christians as a symbolic target.” And it is that the recent attack, last week, perpetrated inside the Notre-Dame de Nice basilica is very present among the French, still shocked by the beheading of a teacher, Samuel Paty, just the day that everyone’s vacation began. The Saints. To all this, yesterday afternoon an individual attacked an Orthodox priest in Lyon while he was closing his church and in the last four days there have been several frustrated attempts at knife attacks in Paris, Lyon and Avignon.

“It is outrageous and scandalous that we have reached this point,” says Guillaume Pontallier, a young Bordeaux resident in Paris, after leaving the service. “It is sad that there has to be a police cordon around the church, in the heart of Paris, to be able to come to practice our religion.” Apart from the agents who control the entrance, a dozen police vans surround the Saint-Sulpice square. There are also plainclothes policemen.

Following the attack in Nice, France has stepped up security measures and the country is on high terrorist alert. French President Emmanuel Macron pledged to tighten security in schools, cemeteries and places of worship, “in particular, of course, churches, so that All Saints Day takes place in the proper conditions,” he declared. Macron from Nice last Thursday. The Government has also increased the number of soldiers assigned to fight the terrorist threat from 3,000 to 7,000 and, as of this Monday, the Ministry of the Interior will mobilize 7,000 police officers for this same reason.

“I have come despite not being a believer. We have prayed for the victims and it was a very beautiful mass,” Anne-Françoise, a Parisian in her sixties, explains to this newspaper. “We must be numerous to defend our traditions.” He admits that he was not afraid, but adds that “the 7 am mass is for the brave”, since the attack in Nice took place early in the morning. Unlike Anne-Françoise, Olga has chosen not to go to mass. She walks with her husband and her newborn in the Saint-Sulpice square: “Normally we always go, but this year, between the pandemic and the attacks, we have preferred not to”.

At the exit door, Father Henri has just said goodbye to the few remaining neighbors. “It went well,” he reflects. “There are fewer people than usual because of the confinement, there is a bit of confusion about whether or not you can go to mass.” Starting tomorrow, it will be forbidden to celebrate mass publicly, although the churches will remain open. The parish of Saint-Sulpice will once again celebrate masses online, as they did during the first confinement. When asked about the recent attacks, Father Henri is grateful that the Police have helped them in this critical period. “Even so, we cannot put a policeman behind every Christian. We can only live in hope, and think that God is with us … Before shutting ourselves up at home.”

Manuel Valls, among the attendees

The former French prime minister and current councilor in the Barcelona city council Manuel Valls has also attended the All Saints ceremony in the Saint-Sulpice church with his wife. “They were sitting right next to me,” explains Guillaume Pontallier. “Valls is one of these leaders who have refused to see the problem and are opening their eyes today. But it is too late.” Guillaume refers to a too lax policy against radical Islamism and that the former prime minister criticized two months ago in an interview in Le Journal de Dimanche before the recent attacks took place. “There is a real Islamist danger,” Manuel Valls commented in the interview, urging Macron to “act without shaking his pulse.”

“We French are on the verge of a nervous breakdown,” Guillaume continues, indignant. “We are fed up with this series of attacks, we are the only country in Europe where this happens so frequently. The only people responsible are the politicians, who have not wanted to see the danger in which they have plunged the people.” After the attack against Samuel Paty, the French government has reinforced its strategy against radical Islamism, intensifying the control of hate messages on the networks or investigating Islamist associations for allegedly promoting violence. It has also pledged to expel 251 foreign nationals in an irregular situation registered for terrorist radicalism.

Police reinforcement in Nice starting tomorrow

In addition to increasing security throughout the country, the Ministry of the Interior will send 120 additional police officers to Nice starting tomorrow. Throughout the weekend, both residents and representatives of different religions came to the basilica to pay tribute to the victims of the attack. Olivier Richard, a resident of Nice, comes over to leave flowers on the lectern. He lives near the basilica and explains to elDiario.es that he also lived through the 2016 attack: “I have the feeling that horror is returning. Macron said that we must learn to live with the virus, because we must also learn to live with this form of act of terrorism “. Even so, he does not lose hope: “You have to work deep down, be tolerant and open, that communities and religions talk to each other.”

For his part, Sami Abed, a French-Tunisian taxi driver who has lived in Nice for 35 years, believes that the French government has to be more strict against Islamic radicalism. “Severity and a strong hand!”, He exclaims, “Macron and company are relaxed. We have to clean up and expel those who are here irregularly, those booked for radicalism.” Asked about the attack, Sami comments that it is “heinous, very serious”, but also believes that Macron needs to stop defending Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons of Muhammad: “As a Muslim, I think they should stop making fun of religions. Enough is enough. I do not justify the violence, but it is an unnecessary provocation. ” Sami carries a few candles in her car to leave on the lectern at Notre-Dame when her shift is over, along with her family.

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