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Soldiers stand on guard at the National War Memorial in Ottawa where Cpl. Nathan Cirillo was gunned down Oct. 22. Photo by Deborah Gyapong.

We must remain compassionate, open in wake of soldiers’ deaths

  • October 29, 2014

OTTAWA - Amid a rising fear of lone-wolf terrorist attacks, Catholic leaders are urging a Christian response to terrorism that ensures Canada remains a compassionate and open society.

“This is a time of profound national sadness for all Canadians,” said Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops president Archbishop Paul-André Durocher.

He was speaking in response to attacks in Ottawa Oct. 22 and in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., two days earlier that killed two Canadian soldiers. Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, 24, was gunned down at the War Memorial on Parliament Hill by Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, while Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, 53, was killed in a targeted hit-and-run by Martin Couture-Rouleau.

The killers, who had both been trying to join terrorist forces in Syria, were shot dead by police.

“We worry that the horror of terrorism is taking root in our soil, so long a land of peace, co-operation and inter-cultural collaboration,” said Durocher. “God created us to experience the fullness of life and love. This outbreak of violence contradicts God’s intention for each one of us.”

Catholics at all levels remain committed to dialogue with Muslim communities across Canada, he stressed, cautioning against people judging all Muslims by the actions of a few.

“We recognize that violent distortions of Islam are causing misunderstanding and suffering in the world and in Canada for peace-loving Muslims as well as non Muslim communities,” Durocher said. “Openness, trust and sharing are ever more essential between our faith communities to help build understanding in this challenging environment.”

Responding to the murder of Cirillo, Ottawa Archbishop Terrance Prendergast evoked the first public words spoken by St. John Paul II when he became Pope.

“Don’t be afraid! Open your hearts wide to Christ,” Prendergast said. “These words apply most appropriately to this present moment in our life in the nation’s capital, but they speak also to all Canadians.”

Prendergast said “horror began to sink in” as he followed the drama on television of Cirillo’s killer storming into Parliament, where he was killed in a shootout. He thought to himself “that this kind of thing doesn’t happen in Ottawa.”

In the aftermath, the archbishop said people should be vigilant but continue “to go about our business as the friendly and welcoming people I have come to know Ottawans to be.”

Prendergast also reflected on reports that radical Islam motivated the two attacks.

“I sense a great sadness at the lack of rootedness of these younger men that leads them to seek an ideal in fanaticism and hatred rather than in love and healthy relationships,” the archbishop said. “How we desperately need the new evangelization to touch the hearts of the young of our country.”

Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ) executive director Joe Gunn said two of his staff were trapped for 10 hours on Parliament Hill during a lockdown that followed the gunman’s “incredibly violent event” in the halls of Centre Block. He called for prayers and condolences for the two soldiers, the others who were injured and all the families that were affected.

“It’s come to a time where we really need to put our thinking caps on and think of what this means from our Christian values,” he said. “Civic participation is worthwhile, and should go forward; people should feel free to discuss, to disagree.”

In the wake of the two attacks, Parliament is set to debate tougher new anti-terrorism laws amid concerns about the need to balance civil liberties against security concerns.

“I prefer debate where everyone recognizes the severity of the threat, and then thinks of what we want to do in response,” said Toronto-based terrorism expert John Thompson. As a Catholic, he said, “no one ever said we had to be dumb regarding our own self-defence.”

Thompson, who’s with Strategic Capital Intelligence Group, believes Al Qaida is failing to launch big attacks like that of 9/11 because their plots are usually being uncovered. “They are retooling their approach,” he said. Now they are recruiting “lone-wolf ” terrorists who, he says, are “self sponsored, self-activated and self-trained within our society.”

That’s what Canadians have been seeing he said. “You can’t tell me two incidents within 72 hours is a coincidence.”

The Mounties and CSIS have said that 130 Canadians have gone overseas to fight for the Islamic State (ISIS) and 90 individuals were under watch, according Thompson.

“That’s a number that’s been growing steadily for the past 10 years,” he said. “People on the inside responsible for security are “overtaxed and under resourced and having a hard time keeping up with a dramatically growing threat.”

All across Europe, North America and Australia, “the threat is growing beyond our ability to contain it,” he said. “We’re going to have to change the rules, no doubt about that.” 

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