European churches join in mourning Norway massacre victims

European churches join in mourning Norway massacre victims

Church leaders across Europe expressed shock and sorrow at the killing of 76 people by a right-wing extremist in Norway, and pledged solidarity and prayers with the country’s inhabitants.

“We categorically condemn such acts which try to destabilise a democratic country and terrorise the population,” the Orthodox president of the Conference of European Churches, Metropolitan Emmanuel Adamakis, said in a statement on July 23.

The message came as prayers continued in Norwegian churches for victims of the July 22 attacks, in which Anders Behring Breivik killed eight in a bomb blast in Oslo before shooting dozens of young people at a summer camp on the island of Utoya.

The Norwegian general secretary of the World Council of Churches, Olav Fykse Tveit, said many of his shocked countrymen were “seeking churches for support and answers”, and accused the gunman of “blasphemy” for citing Christianity as a justification for his acts of mass murder.

“It’s important to say to all Muslims wherever they are, in Europe or elsewhere in the world, that these actions in no way can express our Christian faith and our Christian values,” Tveit told the Associated Press on July 25. “As Christians, we need to be aware of this, how our faith and our religion can be abused. This event shows how important it is that we continue this work more than ever.”

In a message to member-churches, the director-general of Norway’s ecumenical Christian Council, Else Steen, described the massacre as an “unimaginable tragedy” and urged churches to offer themselves as “places of care, participation and prayer for those affected.”

The Pope deplored the “grave terrorist acts” in a Rome address on July 25, and said he would pray “that all Norwegians will be spiritually united in a determined resolve to reject the ways of hatred and conflict, and to work together fearlessly in shaping a future of mutual respect, solidarity and freedom for coming generations.”

A service of mourning was attended on July 24 in Oslo’s Evangelical-Lutheran cathedral by King Harald V and premier Jens Stoltenberg, whose office was targeted in the bomb explosion, as well as government officials and families of the murder victims. Further prayer meetings and vigils were staged on subsequent days in Norwegian churches, as well as outside the capital’s City Hall on July 25.

Preaching at the televised cathedral requiem, the head of Norway’s Evangelical-Lutheran church, Bishop Helga Haugland Byfuglien, urged Norwegians to “declare themselves for love and justice,” and not to be “paralysed by fear”.

“Democratic and human values are deeply rooted in our society, and they will be preserved,” Oslo’s Catholic Bishop Bernt Eidsvig told Austria’s Roman Catholic Kathpress agency on July 26. “There are indeed Christian fundamentalists in Norway, but they would never perpetrate such an action or show the slightest sympathy for it.”

Among other reactions, the ecumenical Council of Churches in France said in a message on July 26 it counted on a “prompt return of peace” in Norway, and for “a dialogue of truth and love so necessary for reinforcing justice and equality in the world”.

Scandinavia’s Roman Catholic Nordic Bishops Conference described the outrage in a message on July 25 as “an expression of senseless violence,” which would “bring untold suffering and despair for many people”.

“Attacking the core institutions of a democratic society and innocent youth gathered for a workshop to discuss political issues, leaves me shocked,” said Tveit. “In times like this, the Norwegian people and government need the solidarity of the international society and the prayers of the worldwide church. Now we know the reality of so many others in the world where violence pierces the lives of the innocent.”

By Jonathan Luxmoore, Ecumenical News International

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