Strasbourg was targeted by terrorism because it is a symbol of Christmas and of Europe. It is the belief of the archbishop of the city Monsignor Luc Ravel. “The purpose of a terror attack – he explained – is not so much to kill many people but to kill people in symbolic sites. We have seen this happen in the terror attacks of the past years in Europe and in France.” The archbishop kindly agreed to be interviewed in a chaotic, difficult day. His residence is located in the historic centre of Strasbourg, a few blocks away from the site of the attack of December 11. Just like his fellow-citizens he plunged back into the terror chasm. He spoke of a “vertigo of pain.” But he preserved his clear-headedness and the determination to react. Strasbourg is renowned as a capital of Christmas and a capital of Europe. On the one side the Christmas market, on the other the European Parliament gathered in plenary session.
How did the city react?
Today the Christmas market was shut down on the decision of the mayor, also because the attacker is still on the run. There are fears of multiple attacks thus it will be reopened only when everyone’s safety is guaranteed.
Are citizens reacting?
People are reacting positively. They can be seen walking along the streets, and schools were kept open for the pupils. I see people in the cafes in the bistrots. The same thing happened in Paris in 2015. We simply need to wait for life to recover its normal course.
There was life before and life will continue also after.
Why have you organized a prayer vigil in the cathedral for next Thursday?
Today all church bells in the city of Strasbourg and Alsace tolled for the dead at midday, signifying that we are all united and that we share the sadness and sorrow of the city and of the entire Region. I invited all the representatives of Christian Churches in Alsace, religious leaders – Muslims, Buddhists, Jews – as well as political authorities, for a joint prayer in the cathedral tomorrow. We will pray especially for those who were killed and for their families.
Seriously wounded victims are being treated in ER and it is feared that the death toll could sadly increase. We will pray for peace and for all security forces, the police, the gendarmes of the army who did an extraordinary job.
What will you say in the homily?
I will write it this evening. I would like to view this act of terrorist violence against the backdrop of the widespread feelings of anger expressed in the previous days by the gilets jaunes. They are the expression of deep-rooted popular discontent felt throughout the Country. I would like to ask:
Will this anger divide us or will we able to react against this blind violence together?
May France remain a united Country. Will this be your message?
No. I can’t say it because France is not a united Country today. The entire movement of the gilets jaunes has demonstrated that our Country is marked by deep rifts. The question is: will these rifts grow deeper after the terror attacks or, conversely, will these attacks prompt us to act in unison against people whose sole purpose is to
manipulate collective psychology, instil fear, divide us even more. This is the goal of terrorism.
The prayer vigil will be attended by Christians, Muslims and Jews. What is the testimony that religions are called to share in moments such as this?
Two kinds of testimony. The first is a clear-cut, rigorous condemnation, reiterated once again, of any attempt to link God to terrorism, which is not of a religious nature. In fact it’s a sheer, perverted form of ideology. Secondly, religions are not factors of division. Unfortunately some politicians believe religions to be cause for discord, hate and war, which is not true.
Today the eyes of Europe are on the city of Strasbourg. Your Excellency, what is your message to Europe today?
I would like to say to Europe not to connect the migration issue – that seriously involves all European Countries – to the wave of Islamist terrorism, for it could trigger violent, sovereignist and populist drifts. It’s a risk. I have already read statements in this respect, on behalf of far-right and far-left men and women politicians.
We are facing a challenging migrant problem but we should be careful to avoid its instrumental use in the light of terrorism.