ROME—Never one to shy away from trying to console suffering, Pope Francis on Saturday greeted one by one close to 1,000 survivors of the terrorist attack in Nice, France, in which 86 people were killed and over 400 wounded last July.
Asking them not to respond to violence with violence, the pontiff’s gesture was an attempt to transmit his “tenderness” to those gathered in Rome.
“The only way to respond to the attacks of the devil are the works of God, which are forgiveness, love and respect for one’s neighbor, even if he’s different,” Francis said in his short remarks.
Christians, Muslims, Jews, and atheists were killed or wounded during the terrorist attack, perpetrated by a non-practicing Muslim who had been recently radicalized.
“When the temptation to turn into oneself, to answer hatred with hatred and violence with violence is great, authentic conversion of the heart is necessary,” he said. “This is the message of the Gospel that Jesus gives to us all.”
The encounter between Francis, the survivors and families of the victims was held in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall, where the weekly audiences are held during winter time. It lasted close to an hour, but the pope spent the majority of his time greeting one at a time those who had traveled from Nice, led by the local bishop.
In a somber mood, the pope consoled crying men, touched his forehead to that of a visibly distressed woman who showed him pictures of her family, and blessed sleeping children.
“I encounter you with deep emotion, [you] who have suffered in body and soul, when during a festive evening violence blindly hit you, you or a loved one, regardless of your origin or religion,” he said, adding that he shared their pain, one which is stronger when thinking about the children whose lives have been torn.
Francis also thanked the local church and the interreligious association Alpes-Maritimes Fraternite, which helped the victims after the attack, saying that it’s a “sign of hope” to see different religions working together.
“I’m glad to see that among you interreligious relations are very much alive, and this can’t do other than contribute to alleviate the hurt of these dramatic events,” he said.
“Establishing an honest dialogue and fraternal relationships among all, in particular among those who confess an only and merciful God, is an urgent priority that those responsible, either politicians or religious, have to try to favor and that each is called to implement around himself,” he said.
The Nice terrorist attack took place on the night of July 14, during the Bastille celebrations in the ocean front city. Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, a 31-year-old man of Tunisian nationality who had been living in France since 2005, drove a truck into the crowd during a fireworks show.
He killed 86 people, and 434 were wounded in the attack, over which the Islamic State terrorist group claimed responsibility. Of those murdered, a third were Muslims, and only half of French origin.
Pope Francis closed his remarks promising the survivors and family members of victims “my prayer and all the tenderness of the Successor of Peter.”
As during Francis’s recent Mass in honor of Father Jacques Hamel, the French priest murdered by two radical Muslims while he was celebrating the Eucharist, the pope spoke in Italian and an interpreter did live translation in French.