French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin. / Pierrot75005 via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Nanterre, France, Dec 12, 2021 / 07:45 am (CNA).
France’s interior minister on Saturday condemned threats made against Catholics taking part in a Marian procession in the western suburbs of Paris.
Gérald Darmanin deplored what he said were “unacceptable acts” during a torchlight procession in Nanterre on Dec. 8, the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.
“Freedom of worship must be able to be exercised in all serenity in our country,” he wrote on his Twitter account on Dec. 11, expressing “support for Catholics in France.”
The French daily Le Figaro reported that on Wednesday evening around 30 Catholics were due to depart from the chapel of Saint-Joseph-des-Fontenelles on an annual procession to the parish of Sainte-Marie-des-Fontenelles, around half a mile away, along a route approved by the local authorities.
Jean-Marc Sertillange, a permanent deacon at Sainte-Marie-des-Fontenelles, told Le Figaro: “But shortly after 7 p.m., and while we had advanced only a few hundred meters, a band of unknown people on the path verbally attacked us at the time of the first prayer station.”
The newspaper reported that the threats included cries of “Kafirs,” an Arabic term meaning “infidels,” and “Wallah [I swear] on the Quran I will cut your throat.”
“They then threw water on us, then grabbed one of the torches which they then threw in our direction,” Sertillange said.
When the police arrived, the group of around a dozen people, with three reported ringleaders, ran away. The procession resumed, heading directly to the parish without making further stops.
Nanterre, a commune of around 97,000 people, is located in the Hauts-de-Seine department in northern France.
The local authorities said that they strongly condemned “the insults, threats, and intimidation” during the procession and expressed their solidarity with the Catholics of Nanterre.
“Law enforcement agencies are mobilized to arrest and bring to justice the perpetrators of these intolerable acts,” they said in a Dec. 11 social media post.
It said: “A Marian procession — registered with the Prefecture of Hauts-de-Seine — was organized between the churches of Saint-Joseph and Sainte-Marie-des-Fontenelles in Nanterre on Dec. 8, 2021.”
“During this march, two stops were planned. During the first stop, the procession was engaged by several people who uttered insults and crude and violent threats. The torch of a faithful was snatched away and thrown at the participants.”
“The procession restarted and continued, joined by the police, to Sainte-Marie-des-Fontenelles. A complaint is about to be filed.”
It added: “The diocese has contacted the public authorities to ensure that the safety of the faithful, who are legitimately concerned, is fully guaranteed now and in the future.”
The Paris Police Prefecture confirmed in a Dec. 11 social media post that a complaint would be filed.
“On Wednesday, Dec. 8 in Nanterre, participants in a religious procession were targeted by 3 individuals,” it said, adding that perpetrators fled after “rapid intervention by the police.”
The incident in Nanterre followed an attack in May on Catholics taking part in a procession in Paris commemorating the city’s 19th-century martyrs.
As soon as the group left the square de la Roquette, east of the city center, those in the procession were subjected to jeers and whistles, reported the French weekly Famille Chrétienne, which identified the attackers as “antifas,” or anti-fascists.
A few minutes later, a group of around 10 men reportedly physically attacked the procession, tearing down flags and throwing projectiles.
Two elderly people were knocked to the ground, with one later requiring stitches for a head injury.
A video posted on social media showed black-clad far-left demonstrators punching and kicking participants in the procession.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) recorded 159 hate crimes against Christians in France last year.
Its figures showed that the number of hate crimes against Christians rose sharply across Europe in 2020.
In August, the Catholic priest Fr. Olivier Maire was murdered in Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre, a commune in the Vendée department in western France.