Mass at St Joseph’s Church in Medan, Indonesia, took a blood-curdling twist last Sunday when an 18-year-old suddenly left his pew and ran towards the celebrant, Fr Albert Pandiangan, wielding an axe.
Members of the congregation managed to restrain the assailant, but only after he had struck the 60-year-old priest with the axe, injuring the cleric’s hand. The young man also carried a bomb in his backpack which, mercifully, failed to detonate.
Indonesian police said shortly afterwards that there was no clear motive for the attack, but the perpetrator reportedly carried a pro-ISIS symbol and insisted that he was not acting alone.
Coming just weeks after the murder of Fr Jacques Hamel in France by Islamists, the attack is likely to increase anxieties about the safety of priests at Mass almost everywhere in the world. After all, Fr Hamel was not celebrating Midnight Mass at the Notre-Dame Cathedral in the nation’s capital. No: he was brutally murdered in rural France, at a quiet Tuesday morning Mass with only five people in the congregation.
Since Fr Hamel’s murder many Mass-goers are likely to have wondered what they should do in the event of such an attack. Judging by the Home Office’s guidelines on terror attacks, Catholics should “run, hide and tell” rather than confront the attacker. The Government advises members of the public to hide in a safe place – barricading themselves in if they must – and turning their mobile phones on to silent, until it is safe to contact the police.
Both the state and the police in Britain seem to be taking the possibility of church attacks seriously. Following Fr Hamel’s murder, the Home Office said it would be spending £2.4 million to bolster security in places of worship. It also issued detailed advice on security to 47,000 churches across the country.
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