Pope Francis has been speaking out on the "pain and horror" stemming from the murder of an 84-year-old priest in France at the hands of Islamic State-linked supporters, as Catholic analysts noted that Europe's Christians are waking up to a "new era" of violence.
The priest, Father Jacques Hamel at the church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray near Rouen, was killed during morning mass on Tuesday by two assailants, who took a total of five people hostage. The attackers slit the priest's throat with a knife and wounded three others, before police shot them dead.
Francis immediately said that he joins in "prayer for the suffering of family members, of the pain of the parish and the diocese of Rouen." He also said that he "invokes God, the merciful Father, that he welcome the Abott Jacque Hamel into the peace of his light and that he bring comfort to the wounded."
The pontiff said that he was "particularly shaken by this act of violence that took place in a church, during the celebration of Mass, a liturgical act that implores God for peace on this earth," and asked God to "inspire all to thoughts of reconciliation and brotherhood."
The Vatican leader has also described the attack as "absurd violence," and expressed his condemnation of "every form of hatred."
One of the nuns at the church, Sister Danielle, shared some of the details of what happened during the hostage situation, and told French radio station RMC that Hamel was forced down on his knees by the IS supporters.
"In the church, everyone screamed 'Stop, you don't know what you're doing.' They didn't stop. They forced him to his knees; he tried to defend himself, and it was then that the drama began," Danielle said.
"They recorded themselves (on video). They did a little – like a sermon – around the altar in Arabic. It was a horror."
IS, which has been carrying out a genocide of Christians and other minorities in Iraq and Syria, claimed responsibility for the attack. The IS-linked Amaq news agency said that the attackers were "soldiers of the Islamic State," while another IS statement called on "Slaughtering, stabbing, ramming and killing in Europe. This is what you brought for yourselves, you Crusaders."
The terror group has in the past specifically warned the Vatican and Europe's Christians that it will be targeting them.
Author Austen Ivereigh, who has written a biography of Pope Francis, said that the pope believes all violence is "ultimately absurd."
Ivereigh added that Europe's Christians are waking up to a new era of violence and challenges, The Guardian reported.
"We are now clearly entering into an era of sporadic violence at the heart of our nations and I think that is going to pose enormous challenges for everyone – including the church and all institutions," he said.
Archbishop Dominique Lebrun of Rouen meanwhile said that the only "weapons" the church can take up in a situation like this is "prayer and brotherhood among people of good will."
Lebrun asked young people not to "give in to violence," but instead to "become apostles of the civilization of love."