Churches in France warned to be on alert

Four months after a botched terrorist attack on a church near Paris and just as French Catholics prepare to celebrate the feast of Assumption, Christian leaders and parishioners have been reminded to be on their guard.

Churches in France warned to be on alert
The feast of Assumption on August 15th is a highlight in the Christian calendar. Church leaders have been reminded of the importance of security. Photo: AFP

The country’s Ministry of Interior and the Conference of Bishops in France (CEF) have written to religious leaders across the country reminding them of the security procedures that need to be in place in churches.

Rather than boost the current level of security around France’s 45,000 places of Christian worship, the government wants churchgoers to play a role in thwarting any possible attacks.

“Parishioners, whether regular or occasional and visitors, be involved in your own security,” reads the poster to be put in churches, that was published in La Croix newspaper.

The memo, sent out at the end of July in time for this weekend’s feast of Assumption, which generally sees a rise in church goers, lists a number of measures that can be taken.

“Don’t leave your bags alone during communion, signal any abandoned object and keep an eye out for clothing not appropriate for the occasion,” it reads.

The CEF ruled out installing security gates at the entrances to churches nor will that happen at France’s holy pilgrimage site of Lourdes, which receives six million visitors each year.

“We are not going to search everyone who looks a bit weird,” David Torchala, communications chief at Lourdes told La Croix.

The question of security at French churches has been at the forefront ever since would-be jihadist Sid Ahmed Ghlam was foiled just as he was about to launch an armed attack on a church in Villejuif, to the south of Paris in April.

France simply does not have the resources to place armed soldiers outside all Christian places of worship as it does for synagogues.

Only 178 of the country’s churches are given special protection, including Notre Dame cathedral in Paris and the Sacre Coeur Basilica.

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US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks

US Vice President Kamala Harris and French Prime Minister Jean Castex laid wreaths at a Paris cafe and France's national football stadium Saturday six years since deadly terror attacks that left 130 people dead.

US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks
US Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff lay flowers after ceremonies at Le Carillon bar and Le Petit Cambodge restaurant, at which 130 people were killed during the 2015 Paris terror attacks. Photo: Sarahbeth Maney/POOL/AFP

The attacks by three separate teams of Islamic State group jihadists on the night of November 13, 2015 were the worst in France since World War II.

Gunmen mowed down 129 people in front of cafes and at a concert hall in the capital, while a bus driver was killed after suicide bombers blew themselves up at the gates of the stadium in its suburbs.

Harris, wrapping up a four-day trip to France, placed a bouquet of white flowers in front of a plaque honouring the victims outside a Paris cafe.

Castex attended a minute of silence at the Stade de France football stadium, along with Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, before laying wreaths at the sites of the other attacks inside Paris.

In front of the Bataclan concert hall, survivors and relatives of the victims listened to someone read out the names of each of the 90 people killed during a concert there six years ago.

Public commemorations of the tragedy were called off last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Last year we weren’t allowed to come and we all found it really tough,” said Bruno Poncet, who made it out alive of the Bataclan.

But he said the start of a trial over the attacks in September meant that those attending the commemoration this year felt more united.

‘Overcome it all’

“We’ve really bonded thanks to the trial,” he said. “During previous commemorations, we’d spot each other from afar without really daring to speak to each other. We were really shy. But standing up in court has really changed everything.”

The marathon trial, the biggest in France’s modern legal history, is expected to last until May 2022.

Twenty defendants are facing sentences of up to life in prison, including the sole attacker who was not gunned down by police, Salah Abdeslam, a French-Moroccan national who was captured in Brussels. Six of the defendants are being tried in absentia.

Poncet said he felt it was crucial that he attend the hearings. “I can’t possibly not. It’s our lives that are being discussed in that room, and it’s important to come to support the others and to try to overcome it all.”

Survivors have taken to the witness stand to recount the horror of the attacks, but also to describe life afterwards.

Several said they had been struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, grappling with survivor’s guilt, or even feeling alienated from the rest of society.

Saturday’s commemorations are to wrap up with a minute of silence at the Stade de France in the evening before the kick-off for a game between France and Kazakhstan.

It was during a football match between France and Germany that three suicide bombers blew themselves up in 2015.

Then-French president Francois Hollande was one of the 80,000 people in the crowd, before he was discreetly whisked away to avoid triggering mass panic.