“Hell touched us”, the Archbishop of Sydney said yesterday during a Mass for victims of the siege at Martin Place.
Hours after commandos stormed the café in central Sydney where an Islamist gunman had held up to 17 people hostage for 16 hours, Archbishop Anthony Fisher prayed at St Mary’s Cathedral for the three people killed, “for the injured and traumatized, praying for healing for them; for the survivors and police and emergency workers who assisted them”.
Archbishop Anthony Fisher contrasted the calm of the hot chocolate café where he had often been a customer with the “flashes of gunfire, intervention by our police to save lives, merciful escapes, but finally death” of the preceding hours.
He recalled the image of hostages forced against the café windows, holding up a flag that he said “blasphemously used the name of God as a threat”.
“We are not used to hearing words like 'siege', 'terrorist', 'hostages' and 'security forces' associated with our city. Yet for the past day and night we were subjected to pictures and sounds we tend to associate with alien lands,” he told the congregation. It included the Governor-General of Australia, Sir Peter Cosgrove, the Premier of New South Wales, Mike Baird, and representatives of the emergency services
He said the heart of the city had been broken by the deaths of hostages Katrina Dawson (38), a lawyer and mother-of-three, and the café’s young manager, Tori Johnson (34).
In a moving homily delivered just two blocks away from the site of the siege, he looked ahead to Christmas and compared the darkness of the siege with the darkness in the Gospel that preceded and followed Christ’s birth, during the massacre of the innocents.
“Is the joy, love and peace of Christmas really possible? Or do we have to adopt a more 'realistic' posture, more cynical and self-protective? Do we have to buy into the endless cycles of violence and recrimination? Do we have to take our own hostages?” He asked.
But the heroism of café manager Mr Johnson, who was reportedly killed as he tried to wrestle the gun from his captor, imitated Christ’s sacrifice, he said.
“These heroes were willing to lay down their lives so others might live … The darkness need not overcome the light. Indeed, the Christmas-Easter-Christian message is: it cannot! There is something greater than hatred and violence. There is Love, that humble, self-donative Love that comes in the shape of the Christmas Babe, the Prince of Peace. He can soften the hardest hearts. He can convert the most hardened sinner. Come Prince of Peace. Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”
Above: A hostage runs towards a police officer outside Lindt cafe, where other hostages were being held in Sydney 15 December. Photo: CNS photo/Jason Reed, Reuters