“France is not a random space… fifteen centuries of history and geography determined its personality. Inscribed in the depths of our landscape, the churches, the cathedrals and other places of pilgrimage give meaning and form to our patriotism. Let us demand our civil authorities to respect it”. Two years ago, the French journalist Denis Tillinac promoted this appeal, signed by dozens of French personalities, after some French imams requested the conversion of abandoned churches into mosques.
A year later, terrorists who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State assaulted the Catholic parishioners in the church of Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray, murdering an elderly priest, Father Jacques Hamel, at the foot of the altar. An outpouring of great emotion followed the most serious attack on a Christian symbol in Europe since the Second World War.
After that attack, the French authorities prevented many Islamist plots against the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Last June, police shot a Muslim man outside the cathedral after he tried to attack them with a hammer. Another terror cell of French women, guided by Islamic State commanders in Syria, had previously been foiled before they could attack Notre Dame. France’s most famous Catholic house of worship is a prime target for the jihadists. A t the same time, France has been dismissing the religious and cultural heritage of France’s Catholic patrimony, which, in a time of religious clashes and revival, should instead be protected as treasures and sources of strength.
Last month, around the time of the first anniversary of the murder of Father Hamel, a wrecking crew demolished the famed Chapel of Saint Martin in Sablé-sur-Sarthe, built in 1880-1886 and deconsecrated in 2015. A parking lot will replace the old Christian building. Photographs and videos posted on social networks, in scenes reminiscent of ISIS’ vandalism of churches in Mosul, show the cross being ripped from the church and the church destroyed. A few days earlier, in Rouen, not far from where Father Hamel had been killed, the local authorities ordered the destruction of the Saint-Nicaise Church’s presbytery, for “safety reasons“.
by Giulio Meotti