Je Suis Catholique: A Catholic Response to the Charlie Hebdo Attacks

by Patrick Angiolillo

In the wake of the horrifying attacks in Paris that occurred at the Charlie Hebdo headquarters on January 7, as well as those others in the ensuing days, we have seen the swift response from the world, not least of all from the people of France themselves.

Immediately following the tremendous events of that day, leaders the world over spoke out against the form of radicalized, fundamentalist religion that led the Muslim gunmen to commit their heinous act of violence. Pope Francis, along with French bishops, as well as French Imams, and hosts of political leaders from different countries have voiced their sorrow and rage in reaction to the terror attack. The hacktivist group known as Anonymous even released a video in which a speaker, hidden by a Guy Fawkes mask, declared war on radical terror organizations like Al-Qaeda. The group claims to already have shut down a French terrorist website.1

While these reactions all share a deep opposition to the acts of violence witnessed, the particular response from different figures is, understandably, quite different. The hacktivist group has already begun their campaign to shut down terror websites, just as political leaders and government agencies have already mobilized their respective responses to the attack.

Religious leaders, however, have a different kind of role in the matter. Fr. Federico Lombardi of the Vatican Press Office expressed, in a matter of hours after the attack, the pope’s—and the Church’s—opposition to this example of the radical use of religion: “Whatever may be the motivation, homicidal violence is abominable. It is never justified: the life and dignity of all must be firmly guaranteed and guarded; any instigation to hate refuted; and respect for the other cultivated.” Indeed, he added that the pope said he “joins the prayers of the suffering and wounded, and of the families of the dead.”2

A religious leader or a religious group has a different responsibility in the aftermath of crises like the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Religion itself, and, as we see today, Islam in particular, has been abused by the ideologizing forces of terror organizations like Al-Qaeda and ISIS (or ISIL). The leaders of these religio-poltical groups use religion—use God—in order to justify their twisted agendas. Pope Francis summarized the phenomenon this way: “Religious fundamentalism, even before it eliminates human beings by perpetrating horrendous killings, eliminates God himself, turning him into a mere ideological pretext.”3

What, then, is the responsibility of the world’s religions, and of world religious leaders in the wake of such attacks? How does our Catholic faith play into this puzzle?

On one level, we need religious leaders to speak out, as many have already done. French and European and American bishops and Cardinals have expressed their heartfelt sorrow and their prayers for the people of France.

But more, we need collaboration. There is perhaps a touch of providence in the fact that on the day of the terror attacks in Paris, four French imams were at the Vatican participating in a two-day visit organized by the Bishop’s Conference of France (CEF). Two of the imams spoke to the media, condemning the attacks as a “hijacking” of Islam.4 But their presence at the Vatican is perhaps a sign of the kind of collaboration and cooperation needed today among the world’s religious leaders.

Our faith teaches us that even in the midst of tremendous evil, there is to be found the light of God’s love. This ancient belief is confirmed by many who feel the love of friends and strangers alike when facing something like the death of loved ones or the pain of great injury. Indeed, the power of millions of people rallying together in the streets of Paris, and in several other cities across France, is easy to detect.5 Such a phenomenon is a testament to the unity of humanity. When I was listening to CBS radio yesterday, one news reporter describing the French rally put it somewhat like this: “When you see everyone join together like this, you realize that it’s what makes you the same that is so much more important than what makes you different.”

There will be no quick end to evil in the world. Indeed, we know neither the day nor the hour when God will turn over the tables of this creation and set up the tables of a new creation. On that day all will be made right. For the present, however, we must strive for the good, and not lose hope in God. We must, as Pope Francis has put it, “oppose, with every means, the spread of hatred and of every kind of violence, both physical and moral, which destroys human life, violates the dignity of the person, and radically undermines the strong foundation of peaceful coexistence among persons and peoples.”6

We may take solace in being with one another—in rallying together, in marching together, in crying on one another’s shoulders and supporting one another’s sorrow and pain. Therein lies a hot burning ember of divine love caught in the midst of our dirty, muddy human suffering. But we should not stop there. Greater cooperation and collaboration among world religious leaders would stoke this divine ember and perhaps—we can pray—bring us, all of us, humanity, closer to greater unity and surer peace.


1 See, e.g., Harriet Line, “Charlie Hebdo Attack: Anonymous Claims First Victory in ‘war’ on Jihadi Websites.” The Telegraph. January 12, 2015.

2 For a fuller article, see Kevin Jones and Andrea Gagliarducci, “Vatican Condemns ‘horrible Attack’ on French Newspaper.” Catholic News Agency. January 7, 2015.

3 See Carol Glatz, “Pope to Diplomats: Rejecting God, People, Nature Leads to Conflict.” Catholic News Service. January 12, 2015.

4 See Jones and Gagliarducci, “Vatican condemns ‘horrible Attack’ on French Newspaper.”

5 See the reports from the BBC: “Paris Attacks: Millions Rally for Unity in France.” BBC News. January 11, 2015.

6 See Jones and Gagliarducci, “Vatican condemns ‘horrible Attack’ on French Newspaper.”


2 thoughts on “Je Suis Catholique: A Catholic Response to the Charlie Hebdo Attacks”

  1. I agree with everything I read here, At the same time, I hear very little about how to address the causes of the violent reactions to something read or seen. Free speech is an essential aspect of FREEDOM. At the same time, at what point does what we speak cross the line of acceptability?

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