THE ARCHBISHOP of Canterbury has called for ‘unity’ after terrorists murdered a priest in France this week, saying the church was now being ‘besieged’.
Justin Welby’s pleas were made yesterday during a visit to Portsmouth Cathedral.
These attacks – this sense of a church besieged – is one that brings us back to the importance of religious lifeThe Most Rev Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury
The religious leader was the guest of honour at the celebration marking the 150th anniversary of the Sisters of Bethany in Southsea.
As well as leading the service in High Street, Old Portsmouth, Archbishop Welby also issued a rallying cry to the community to ‘pray for peace between faiths’.
The role religious groups could play in solidifying communities across the globe was essential, he said.
The archbishop added: ‘The calling to unity is one which the church is in need of more and more at a time of recent conflict, of the martyrdom of priests at mass in France, of those caught up in Germany and of the Coptic priest in Egypt two or three weeks ago.
‘These attacks – this sense of a church besieged – is one that brings us back to the importance of religious life.’
On Tuesday 84-year-old French priest Father Jacques Hamel was killed when terrorists stormed his church in the suburb of Rouen in northern France.
The two attackers, Adel Kermiche and Abdel-Malik Petitjean, both 19, claimed to be from the so-called Islamic State.
The extremists burst into morning mass and slit Father Hamel’s throat, before being killed by French police.
As well as paying tribute to Father Hamel, the archbishop also used the time to praise the dedication of the members of the Sisters of Bethany.
The group was established in 1866 by Etheldreda Anna Benett, and was the first Church of England community to offer retreats to women.
There are currently eight sisters based in its Southsea convent.
It is the only such religious community of its kind in the Portsmouth diocese.
Sister Rita-Elizabeth is the Mother Superior of the group. She was delighted by the archbishop’s visit and said: ‘It’s a wonderful privilege.’
Speaking of the archbishop’s call for unity in the wake of terror attack in France, she added: ‘It’s a very powerful message. If the church can witness forgiveness and unity in the face of such uncertain times, then we give a powerful witness to people living with conflicts and difficulties in daily life.’
Some 600 people joined the service, with many then eating a basic lunch of soup and bread.