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Sacristan killed, priest wounded in terrorist attacks in Spain; bishops condemn violence

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CNA Newsroom, Jan 26, 2023 / 14:30 pm (CNA).

A sacristan was killed and a priest wounded during a suspected terrorist attack Wednesday on two Catholic churches in Spain.

As reported by Europa Press, according to police sources, the sacristan of the Church of Our Lady of La Palma was murdered and the pastor of St. Isidore Church was wounded.

Both churches are in the city of Algeciras near the far southern end of the Iberian peninsula across the strait of Gibraltar from Morocco.

Calatunya Press reported that the deceased sacristan is Diego Valencia, and the priest is Father Antonio Rodríguez.

The news outlet further reported that in the St. Isidore attack, the suspect entered the church and struck at statues with a machete. The priest tried to expel him and once outside, the suspect, dressed in a djellaba (typical Moroccan dress), stabbed the priest in the neck.

Sources from the 112 Andalusia Emergency Service informed Europa Press that the attack occurred around 7:30 p.m.

The Diocese of Cádiz-Ceuta where Algeciras is located said in a Jan. 26 statement that the injured priest is hospitalized and is “fortunately already out of danger.”

The deceased sacristan was “much loved in the parish and in the city for his dedication and affability with everyone,” the diocese related.

The National Court has initiated the investigation as an alleged jihadist terror attack, a process carried out by the Central Investigating Court No. 6.

In wake of the attacks, the mayor of Algeciras, José Ignacio Landaluce, decreed a day of official mourning, with flags at half staff on municipal buildings, and announced that a rally will be held in front of the city’s largest church.

Various Spanish bishops condemned the attack and offered their condolences to the victims and their families.

“It is with pain that I have received the news of the events in Algeciras,” Francisco César García, the auxiliary bishop of Toledo and secretary general of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference, wrote on Twitter.

“In these sad moments of suffering, we join the grief of the families of the victims and the Diocese of Cádiz and ask the God of life and peace for the speedy recovery of the injured,” the prelate said.

In a Jan. 26 press conference, García also revealed that Bishop Rafael Zornoza of the Cádiz Diocese was making a pastoral visit in Algeciras “and was not in that church but was a few meters away.”

Although the Zornoza was not in direct danger, this circumstance “allowed him to immediately be present at the scene and receive firsthand information.”

The secretary general of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference acknowledged that “in this case there was a religious motivation of hatred of the faith” but stressed that “we cannot and should not demonize groups in general.”

The prelate expressed in any case the “most absolute and total condemnation” of the attacks “with a special gravity, which is when this violence is wrongly tried to be justified in the name of God. That is taking the name of God in vain, whatever the name of that one true God may be called.”

García also recalled that “as St. John Paul II said, revalidated by Benedict XVI and confirmed by Pope Francis, the name of God can never, ever, ever be used for any act of violence.”

The Spanish Bishops’ Conference expressed in a statement their “closeness and heartfelt sentiments and the consolation of faith to the families of the victims, to the Diocese of Cádiz, and to the people of Gibraltar County.”

“We also express our strongest condemnation of all forms of violence, which can have no place in the society in which we live,” the prelates stressed.

“As believers, we ask the God of mercy and peace to fill the hearts of the victims with hope and heal the wounded, accompany the Church and society in the search for peace, and to convert the hearts of violent people,” the bishops concluded.

Cardinal Juan José Omella, president of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference and archbishop of Barcelona, said he was “shocked by the armed attack that took place in two parishes in Algeciras, which caused the death of the sacristan of one of them and seriously injured the pastor of another as well as at least two other people.”

“I pray for the victims of this atrocity and for their relatives,” the cardinal assured.

The Diocese of Cádiz-Ceuta released a statement from Bishop Rafael Zornoza calling on the faithful to “be bearers of peace and mercy.”

The prelate said that the diocese is “still in shock and pained by the murder of the sacristan and this good Salesian priest who was wounded.”

At the same time, he emphasized that “we want, however, to be bearers of peace and mercy in the midst of this world where we live, which has so many tensions and so many manifestations of inhuman violence.”

The bishop said that although the attacks hit them “very hard,” at the same time “they are uniting people more in prayer and faith.”

He has also stressed his firm condemnation, although he was cautious about assuming what happened: “Of course we strongly condemn these incidents, although we are really awaiting clarification from the law enforcement authorities.”

Zornoza said he was grateful for “all the expressions of condolences, solidarity, and love” that they are receiving “from near and far, from the entire Church.”

“The truth is that we feel the strength of the prayer of the entire Church and its closeness, its encouragement and its testimony strengthen us a lot,” he said.

“We will continue to entrust ourselves and everyone to the Lord,” he concluded.


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