News 31 Jan 2023

Jihadist attack in Spain: “Officials and public opinion cannot ignore” rise in religious hatred

ACN had recently cooperated with the parish in which church warden Diego Valencia was murdered

International foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) expresses its utmost condemnation of the attack on two Catholic Churches carried out Wednesday in Algeciras, Spain, motivated by jihadist religious extremism. ACN also expresses its solidarity and calls for prayers for the victims and their families. 

The jihadist used a machete to kill the warden of one of the churches, Diego Valencia, married and a father, who was well known locally as the owner of a florist, and injured four more, including a priest. 

The first attack was on the parish of San Isidro, where the attacker seriously injured the Salesian priest Antonio Rodrígues Lucena. Fr Antonio was wounded in the neck and underwent emergency surgery. He is now hospitalised and stable. Two other people who tried to stop this first attack were also injured. The terrorist then headed to the church of Our Lady of Palma, where he murdered Diego Valencia. 

Witnesses of the attacks are quoted in several Spanish news outlets as saying that the 25-year-old Moroccan also overturned holy images and harassed those in the church yelling “Allahu Akhbar” [God is greatest], and “your faith is not authentic”. Before the attack took place he allegedly crossed paths with another Moroccan citizen, whom he punched, yelling “you work for the ‘majia’”, a Moroccan term that describes those who are opposed to one’s religion. 

Are we doing everything possible to stop the hatred?

In a reaction to this attack, executive president of ACN, Thomas Heine-Geldern, highlights the importance of protecting religious freedom. “Officials and public opinion cannot ignore, nor underestimate this type of tragic event. We should ask ourselves if we are doing everything possible to stop whatever is inspiring this hatred, this aversion which feeds off a political-religious ideology that has made so many victims all over the world, in particular in recent years, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Europe has also seen an increasing number of attacks of this sort”, he says.

Javier Menéndez Ros, director of ACN Spain, recalls that yesterday’s terror attack took place on the feast day of the conversion of Saint Paul, who persecuted Christians before becoming a great apostle of Christianity in the first Century. “On the road to Damascus, Saint Paul fell to the ground when the Lord asked him: ‘why are you persecuting me?’. This question is as pertinent today as it was then. Why are we being persecuted?”. 

The desecrated icon in Algeciras

Menéndez adds that ACN recently cooperated with the parishes of Algeciras through the exhibition of an Icon that was desecrated by jihadists in Syria, and rescued from a church in the city of Homs. “Almost all the parishes in the diocese hosted the icon, and held prayer vigils and meetings to reflect on persecution of Christians in the Middle East. The parish of Our Lady of Palma, where church warden Diego Valencia was murdered, and the church of Our Lady Help of Christians, of which the wounded Fr José was parish priest, were among those which hosted the Syrian Icon”, the director of ACN Spain explains. 

Defending religious freedom

ACN has repeatedly called on stronger protections for religious freedom worldwide. This is a fundamental right that has to be guaranteed and protected by all state authorities. Currently, religious freedom is only guaranteed in 1 out of every 3 countries in the world, according to ACN’s latest Religious Freedom Report. 

On January 9, during his traditional speech to members of the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See, Pope Francis stressed that in our days one out of every seven Christians in the world is persecuted for their faith. The Pope insisted on the need to defend and protect religious freedom. “It is troubling that people are being persecuted simply because they publicly profess their faith and, in many countries, religious freedom is limited”, said the Pope.

- By Maria Lozano & Josue Villalón

Featured Image: Our Mother of Perpetual Succour,  Saint Lazarus Zographos , 1325

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